Lim­its of a Trump EPA

Our view: In Mary­land and else­where, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion will have to start closer to home

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

The Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pe­ti­tion filed this week urg­ing the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to crack down on 19 out-of-state, up­wind coal-fired power plants that pol­lute Mary­land’s air is cer­tainly a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. Mary­land’s en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary had more or less promised such ac­tion ear­lier this year when he de­clined to join a multi-state law­suit seek­ing sim­i­lar en­force­ment by the fed­eral agency.

The strat­egy might even prove pro­duc­tive if ac­tion is taken in the wan­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has ex­pressed con­cern not only about toxic pol­lu­tants like sul­fur diox­ide that can be par­tic­u­larly harm­ful to peo­ple with asthma or other breath­ing prob­lems, but carbon diox­ide and other green­house gases that con­trib­ute to cli­mate change. Mary­land is im­per­iled by all of the above and needs fed­eral au­thor­i­ties to act given that as much as 70 per­cent of the state’s air pol­lu­tion can be traced to up­wind sources.

So why does it sound like Mary­land is ask­ing for Mar­quess of Queens­bury rules in the face of a street brawl? Most likely be­cause Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent last week and, in his first act of en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship named My­ron Ebell, a pro­fes­sional cli­mate change de­nier, to head his EPA tran­si­tion team. The ap­point­ment came as no sur­prise given how of­ten Mr. Trump at­tacked the EPA’s ef­forts to pro­tect public health and safety dur­ing the cam­paign, but it surely set the stage for what is com­ing next.

Here’s an­other clue: Those of­fend­ing coal-burn­ing plants are lo­cated in In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and West Vir­ginia. What else do they all have in com­mon be­sides dirty air? They all sup­ported Mr. Trump. How did Mary­land do in this re­gard? Hil­lary Clin­ton won 60.5 per­cent of the vote, one of her best show­ings in the na­tion.

It will be Pres­i­dent Trump’s obli­ga­tion to en­force the terms of the Clean Air Act, and that in­cludes in­ter­state sources of pol­lu­tion. In­deed, the of­fend­ing power plants in ques­tion al­ready have the tech­nol­ogy to re­duce emis­sions that con­trib­ute to ground-level ozone, they sim­ply don’t use it as of­ten as they should. But how many peo­ple think the EPA of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will take such ac­tion will­ingly, if at all? There is am­ple rea­son to be skep­ti­cal.

In an in­ter­view on Fox News last year, Mr. Trump called for the EPA to be cut and said its work was a “dis­grace.” He wrote in his book, “The Art of the Come­back,” that “as­bestos got a bad rap from min­ers.” And then there’s Mr. Ebell, whose Cen­ter of En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment has long sought to down­play the ad­verse im­pacts of pes­ti­cides.

All of which sug­gests that Mary­land and any other state that cares about clean water and clean air had bet­ter be pre­pared to de­fend that turf it­self. Quickly leav­ing are the days when the EPA could be counted on to be an ag­gres­sive en­forcer of fed­eral law. In the fu­ture, states and lo­cal gov­ern­ments will need to step in and ei­ther force fed­eral ac­tion through lit­i­ga­tion or be pre­pared to set lo­cal rules that might ac­com­plish the same thing.

Take, for ex­am­ple, The Clean En­ergy Jobs Act man­dat­ing that Mary­land gets at least 25 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources by 2020 (up from 20 per­cent by 2022). Gov. Larry Ho­gan ve­toed the bill. The Gen­eral As­sem­bly will need to over­ride that veto when the next ses­sion be­gins in Jan­uary. It’s the kind of in­cre­men­tal ac­tion Mary­land can take to help push the U.S. to­ward cli­mate change goals even if the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion balks.

This isn’t the ideal so­lu­tion, of course. Ef­forts to clean up the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay re­quire ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion by the EPA to make sure all states in the wa­ter­shed meet tar­geted pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion lev­els. Bay ad­vo­cates have al­ready ex­pressed con­cern that Mr. Trump will aban­don or weaken the so-called “pol­lu­tion diet” and be lax on such things as stormwa­ter runoff, waste­water treat­ment plants and farm­ing.

And it’s par­tic­u­larly trou­bling that the U.S. may re­treat on cli­mate change even as world lead­ers are seek­ing stronger ac­tion. Even Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties this week openly mocked Mr. Trump’s skep­ti­cism, with Chi­nese Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Liu Zhen­min re­mind­ing re­porters that cli­mate change ne­go­ti­a­tions can be traced back to Ron­ald Rea­gan. Mary­land can’t do much on a global scale but it can start by mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort — whether through the courts or the state leg­is­la­ture — to do our fair share to pro­tect public health and safety.

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