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Lax coal rules are a step backward for health and environment

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant appears against

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant appears against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo., on July 27. The Trump administration on Aug. 21 proposed a major rollback of Obama-era regulations on coal-fired power plants, striking at one of the former administration's programs to rein in climate-changing fossil-fuel emissions. Credit: AP / J. David Ake

Coal is a loser. And the nation knows it.

Power plants that burn coal create pollution that warms the planet and harms human health. About half of America’s coal-fired plants have shut down or are slated to close, overtaken by cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewable energy like solar and wind. The percentage of the nation’s electricity produced by coal-fired plants had plummeted from 54 percent in 2000 to 24 percent as of April.

Yet the Trump administration persists in promoting coal. It moved last week to weaken regulations on coal-fired power plants by eliminating Obama-era limits on carbon emissions. President Donald Trump’s plan would let states set their own standards, or none at all, and would ease rules for plants requiring upgrades, allowing them to run longer and pollute even more.

This is a profoundly bad idea. And you don’t have to take our word for it. Just look at the details in the analysis done by the Environmental Protection Agency, which made the proposal.

The EPA admits that carbon emissions would rise, leading to as many as 1,400 premature deaths every year. In releasing the Obama plan in 2014, the EPA cited up to 3,600 such deaths avoided each year and emissions reductions of 32 percent. It also found the plan would significantly increase new cases of exacerbated asthma and missed school and work days. But then there’s the trade-off — the $400 million in annual compliance-cost savings for power companies — even as people in Appalachia face skyrocketing electric bills due to expensive coal-fired plants and the cost of cleaning up toxic messes after those plants close.

Lawsuits against the Trump plan are inevitable. The court battle, whatever its outcome, will mean years lost in the fight against climate change and years of people breathing dirtier air.

And coal-fired plants likely will continue to close as market forces accomplish what the Trump administration would stop resisting if it were truly interested in serving all Americans.