The Trump administration’s Dirty Power Plan is an illegal giveaway to the struggling coal industry that will result in the deaths of thousands of Americans and exacerbate the worst effects of the climate crisis.
It’s illegally weak and intentionally vague, with no concrete emission reduction goals or standards that would actually require dirty power plants to cut down on dangerous pollution and give us a fighting chance against climate change. Instead, it attempts to throw a lifeline to coal billionaires to keep their uncompetitive plants open longer and ignores the millions of people who suffer through their pollution on a daily basis.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis shows that the Dirty Power Plan would lead to as many as 1,600 premature deaths every year, up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and more than 100,000 missed school and work days annually by 2030. In addition to these life-threatening risks, the Dirty Power Plan also rolls back the historic Clean Power Plan, which was the first U.S. policy specifically geared toward cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants.
The Dirty Power Plan is also an economic loser, which EPA has no choice but to acknowledge. The agency added up all of the costs and benefits of the proposal and determined that, even under the most optimistic scenario, our nation would lose between $2 billion and $11 billion each year in net benefits by replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Dirty Power Plan. This figure is all the more amazing given that EPA used a flawed accounting trick to underreport the Clean Power Plan’s climate benefits by at least 90 percent to 95 percent — at the same time the western United States battles unprecedented wildfires linked to climate change.
The Clean Power Plan would have reduced electric-sector carbon pollution by 32 percent, prevented 90,000 asthma attacks per year, and avoided 3,200 premature deaths per year by 2030. All told, EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan would have provided up to $45 billion in climate and public health benefits a year even after taking into account compliance costs. The program would also have helped drive the rapid expansion of affordable clean energy industries like solar, wind and energy efficiency, while encouraging important solutions to economic and environmental justice issues that have long plagued our energy sector.
In contrast, the Dirty Power Plan’s anemic measures are widely considered to be an act of desperation by fossil fuel billionaires, many of whom conspicuously supported Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, to beat back competition from cleaner, cheaper energy competitors like renewables. Since Trump’s election in 2016, more than three dozen coal plants have retired due to local communities standing up to plant owners and demanding cleaner air and water, as well as electricity customers’ increasing preference for solar and wind.
Based on 2016 emissions estimates, these coal plant retirements have stopped the equivalent of 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being pumped into our atmosphere. In fact, with half the nation’s coal plants already slated to retire, we are on track to meet the pollution reduction targets of the Clean Power Plan a decade ahead of schedule, thanks to affordable renewables and a decade-long grassroots campaign to replace coal plants with clean energy.
The Dirty Power Plan ignores these important trends and instead asks states to set their own policies, while doing little to prohibit powerful fossil fuel groups from helping set weak pollution standards that will likely be struck down in court. While the Trump EPA is clearly doing the bidding of the very coal industry executives who used to sign acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s paychecks, this rollback simply doesn’t meet EPA’s legal obligation under the Clean Air Act.
Instead of standing up for millions of Americans whose health and well-being are threatened by air pollution and the climate crisis, Trump and Wheeler are joining hands with callous corporate polluters and telling them they will not get in their way.
This Dirty Power Plan is yet another example of the Trump administration’s failure to protect public health, and it confirms its commitment to do everything the fossil fuel industry asks of them. That is why we are committed to fighting this rollback, continuing to replace coal plants with clean energy, and working for real climate action now.
Mary Anne Hitt is senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.