Trump team kicks the Clean Power Plan into the long grass

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Image caption The Trump White House is determined to revive the fortunes of US coal at all costs

In California and the western US, wildfires made more likely by climate change, continue to rage in the vineyards and forests.

In President Trump's Washington, a bonfire of climate regulations is also burning brightly.

"The war on coal is over," EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told an audience in Kentucky yesterday, as he announced his intention to sign a rule rolling back the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

So is this just another angry white man, lashing out at the "global climate conspiracy", determined to turn the clock back to the golden age of anthracite?

Mr Pruitt would robustly deny it.

Along with many other republican attorneys general, and several industry bodies, he sees the CPP as a significant over-reach by the Federal government.

Rather than just requiring coal fired power plants to improve the efficiency of their operations, critics say it put the onus on them to go further and invest in renewables such as wind and solar power.

"The past administration was using every bit of power and authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country," Mr Pruitt said.

"That's wrong."

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Image caption Scott Pruitt is presented with a coal miner's helmet at a mine in Pennsylvania

However, many experts take issue with that analysis.

"The CPP was written with maximum flexibility," said Tim Profeta, director of Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

"All the federal government did was set a target and it gave complete discretion to the state on how to hit the target. There was no picking of technology."

While shooting down the CPP on the disputed grounds that it favours one form of power generation over others, the Trump administration's energy department seems to be doing something very similar.

"A diverse mix of power generation resources, including those with on-site reserves, is essential to the reliable delivery of electricity - particularly in times of supply stress such as recent natural disasters," said Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a statement announcing a new regulation on the security of electricity supply.

"My proposal will strengthen American energy security by ensuring adequate reserve resource supply."

The phrase "adequate resource supply" is understood to mean that nuclear power and older coal fired plants will be given extra money to ensure that the lights stay on.

Many researchers say this is not necessary. They point to states like Texas, where since 2008 wind power has grown to account for 13% of the electricity mix, while coal generation has fallen by 24%.

Observers say this "retro" approach to climate change and energy springs from the President's election campaign.

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Image caption President Trump greets EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on the day he announced US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement

"The core of the Trump support truly doubts the need to act on climate change, and really sees it as an attempted government over reach," said Tim Profeta.

"The reason President Trump is our president is because of the real cry of pain from the mid-west and our manufacturing belt that feels left behind both economically and culturally."

"That's what put him in the White House, and I think he is really trying to react to that and the decline of coal is very symbolic and he's trying to reverse that."

However, this impetus to re-energise the coal sector comes into direct conflict with a legal imperative given to the EPA in a 2009 endangerment finding by the Supreme Court that ruled that CO2 was a pollutant and a danger to health.

Faced with these two contradictory pressures, Mr Pruitt has kicked for touch. The EPA will take public comments on what should happen replace the CPP. This will take at least a year.

They may then propose an amended and restricted version of the plan - or they may not.

Insiders say that another element helping the delay is Scott Pruitt's political ambitions in his home state of Oklahoma, a place hugely dependant on the oil and gas industry.

Mr Pruitt is determined, say sources, not to regulate CO2 during his term at the EPA. Despite this, he may not be able to hold back the tide. Renewable energy is cheaper than ever, natural gas is in abundant supply, and the US judiciary is firmly on the side of regulating carbon dioxide.

"The EPA can repeal the Clean Power Plan but not the laws of economics," former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted.

"This won't revive coal or stop the US from reaching our Paris goal."

Tim Profeta agrees with this analysis.

"The facts are stubborn, we have the legal authority, the public sentiment is there for action, it's just not intense enough to make President Trump care."

"But I think eventually this nation will get to the right place."

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