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President Trump goes in reverse on the environment

A haul truck with a 250-ton capacity carries

A haul truck with a 250-ton capacity carries coal from the Spring Creek strip mine near Decker, Mont., on Nov. 15, 2016. Credit: AP

In the past two months, owners have announced plans to shut down three coal-fired power plants, including two of the nation’s largest. Nothing President Donald Trump signed Tuesday is going to bring them back.

That fundamental dishonesty is at the heart of Trump’s executive order, which seeks to unravel large parts of former President Barack Obama’s climate change policy.

Trump wants to bring back coal, including mining jobs, one of his loudest and most frequent campaign promises. His order opens up federal lands to new coal leases, which the Obama administration froze. But those federal lands are not in Kentucky or West Virginia. They’re out West, where coal mining is largely mechanized.

Coal is being left in its dust by the market, not Obama’s policies. Coal-fired plants can’t make it economically against competition from cheaper natural gas and incentives for solar and wind production. The number of solar jobs in the United States passed those in coal as well as in oil and gas in 2015. Wind jobs are growing even faster. Majorities of Americans of all political types support more clean energy. There is no turning back.

Most important, Trump’s executive order would hurt the environment and harm public health. It begins the process of undoing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which mandates emission cuts in power plants, much of whose pollution reaches the East Coast. The order also seeks to relax regulations on methane emissions and fracking, and to undo several policies that make climate change a factor in federal decisions.

Undoing emissions cuts would make it harder to achieve reductions promised in the Paris climate change agreement, which in turn would undermine the nation’s diplomatic efforts and its status as a world leader. But it is a natural consequence of the ideology of an administration filled with climate change deniers. Their skepticism, at odds with the overwhelming majority of scientists, comes as many parts of the nation, including Long Island, suffer from the effects of climate change. That ideology permeated Trump’s words and actions Tuesday — as when he said he wants the nation to be energy independent. If he really believes that, why ease auto mileage rules that would lead to the nation using less fuel?

Some of the moves in Trump’s executive order are complex and will lead to years of litigation — especially the rollback of the Clean Power Plan, which environmental groups will battle in court. Meanwhile, the fight against climate change will continue with the states in the lead. The governors of New York and California reacted to Trump’s action by highlighting their commitments to exceed Clean Power Plan targets while noting that together they represent about 20 percent of Americans and 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. In the shameful absence of federal leadership, they thankfully plan to fill the void.

But that will be little comfort to Appalachian coal miners or power plant workers in Arizona and Ohio, where those coal-fired plants are slated to close. Those workers and their families are facing crushing hardship, which won’t be solved with the stroke of a pen and a photo op.— The editorial board


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