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Editorial: Trump’s rollback of Clean Energy Plan won’t save coal, but will hurt the environment

  • A plume of steam rises from a cooling tower at the American Electric Power Co. Inc. coal-fired John E. Amos Power Plant in Winfield, W.Va., on July 18, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett.



Sunday, June 23, 2019

It’s no surprise that President Donald Trump is trying to eviscerate the Obama-era Clean Energy Plan with a completely inadequate substitute that has far lower targets for reducing carbon emissions from the power sector. Trump has been trying to undo as much of his predecessor’s legacy as possible.

Trump’s plan is the worst of all worlds. It won’t cut carbon emissions sufficiently to slow the growing impact of climate change, but it will keep some coal plants operating longer. The plants won’t stay open long enough to actually reverse coal’s inevitable decline, but long enough to harm air quality around the nation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis shows that Trump’s plan will result in the deaths of thousands of Americans because of increased air pollution. Air quality has already begun to decline across the United States, according to a recent Associated Press analysis.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a 2020 candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson slammed the new rule. “Today’s action is one of the most dangerous steps taken by the Trump administration to date for the health of our families, our environment and our economy,” they said via a joint statement. “Our nation and our planet cannot afford for the federal government to be a bystander in the climate crisis.”

Coal and utility economy experts agree that Trump’s move will not — and cannot — save the coal industry.

“This will not change the market trend of coal plant retirement,” said Julie McNamara, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But for those laggard states not participating in this transition underway, this will lessen any need to limit emissions from the power sector.”

The utility sector has clearly moved on from coal. The number of coal-fired plant retirements continues to grow, and no new coal-fired plants are coming online. Natural gas and renewables are more economical, flexible and far, far cleaner.

More and more states — not to mention cities and towns — are passing laws to speed the transition completely away from carbon fuels.

With his plan, Trump might be able to tell his supporters in coal country that he has ended Obama’s nonexistent war on coal, but it won’t actually put coal miners back to work or do anything to help former miners.

What it will do is blunt the urgent action we need to be taking as a nation to address the global climate crisis.