A sleight of hand diversion by the Trump administration shouldn’t fool anyone about the perils of altering regulations for the coal industry.
On June 19, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would withdraw a rule put into place by former President Barack Obama to reduce carbon emissions produced by coal plants. The new EPA ruling offers states greater leeway in deciding what restrictions to place on these facilities.
The Trump administration is pretending to satisfy both coal polluters and conservationists. But people will hopefully recognize this is merely another gimmick that could endanger efforts to effectively deal with global warming.
“The Trump administration on Wednesday replaced former President Barack Obama’s effort to reduce planet-warming pollution from coal plants with a new rule that would allow plants to stay open longer and slow progress on cutting carbon emissions. While the Obama plan would have set national emissions limits and mandated the reconstruction of power grids to move utilities away from coal, the new measure gives states broad authority to decide how far, if at all, to scale back emissions,” according to a New York Times story published June 20 in the Watertown Daily Times. “The new rule is also likely to prompt a flurry of legal challenges, this time from environmental groups, that could have far-reaching implications for global warming. If the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the administration’s approach to pollution regulation, it would shut down a key avenue that future presidents could use to address climate change. At issue is whether the EPA has authority to set national restrictions on carbon emissions and force states to move away from coal, as assumed under Obama’s rule. Under the Trump administration’s interpretation, the agency only has authority over environmental infractions at individual plants, like chemical spills and improper handling of hazardous materials.”
Despite the industry’s history of environmental damage and loss of market share, President Donald Trump has promoted the use of coal as a source of energy. So it’s no surprise the EPA followed his lead and loosened the rules on coal plants.
In a statement made June 19, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler attempted to package this new rule as a win for the environment and consumers: “The Affordable Clean Energy rule gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce emissions and provide affordable energy to all Americans.”
States now have more authority to regulate coal plants as they see fit. But this plan has glaring flaws.
The states that host coal plants aren’t very likely to toughen rules on them, particularly after money from the industry starts flowing into the campaign coffers of state officials. And the states that don’t have coal plants now have no say in how they operate.
Years ago, pollution from Midwest coal plants resulted in acid rain in parts of Northern New York. This severely harmed lakes throughout the Adirondack Park, greatly diminishing their stocks of fish.
Amendments were passed to the Clean Air Act in 1990 to limit coal plant emissions. The fish returned to the lakes once acid rain was reduced. Tests showed that the quality of the soil in the park also improved.
Loosening these regulations will lead to degraded environmental conditions. And if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the federal government has a more limited role, future administrations will be hamstrung.
Pollution does not recognize state boundaries. A patchwork of coal plant laws will not do the trick. It’s imperative for the federal government to pass a nationwide rule restricting these emissions to ensure we’re all equally protected.