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The coal-fired Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, West Virginia. Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images

This week the EPA released its long-awaited proposed revision to part of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP). The new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule is less stringent than the current policy and could result in increased carbon emissions.

The big picture: The EPA is claiming to meet its mandate to regulate carbon emissions, while critics say ACE is yet another coal bailout scheme. Yet market forces might ultimately make the new rule moot.

The details: It appears that the only power plants ACE might affect are coal plants that are currently profitable but need capital investment to keep operating. Under the current rules, such investment triggers a provision requiring new pollution permits that limit the plant's carbon emissions, but wouldn’t under ACE.

Yes, but: Because coal is seen as a risky investment, few financial institutions are likely to extend credit to invest in coal plants. Instead, the capital would likely have to come from utilities in areas where they can rate-base — i.e., include the costs of upgrades directly into rate-payer’s bills — their investment.

But rate-based investment would likely require approval from regulators, who, since they are charged with keeping costs down, might find it hard to justify, given the current low prices of renewables and 5-year natural gas futures. Decisions to pursue life-extending upgrades for existing coal plants will be made on a plant-by-plant basis, but extending the life of plants would also subject them to more regulatory uncertainty. Even regulated, coal-heavy utilities like Southern Company say the rule does not change its plans to retire its coal fleets.

The bottom line: ACE might strengthen the hand of a few coal-fired power plants, but won’t fundamentally change where the market is heading. Low-cost natural gas and renewables are already winning on price. For coal, ACE is just too little too late.

Joshua Rhodes is a research associate in the Webber Energy Group and the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Go deeper

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, is pictured outside the John Joseph Moakley United State Courthouse in Boston on March 25, 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden plan expected to include at least $500B for climate

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is privately telling lawmakers the climate portion of President Biden's roughly $2 trillion social spending plan is "mostly settled" and will likely cost more than $500 billion, two sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: A price tag of $500 billion to $555 billion is a huge number and, if it holds, would likely be the single biggest component of the sweeping package. It also isn't far off from the roughly $600 billion proposed when the bill was expected to cost $3.5 trillion.