Fiddling while Earth burns
ay no attention to the burning hilltops of California or to the huge swath of Texas still drying out from a historically horrible hurricane: The White House is shredding Obama-era rules that asked each state in its own way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by power-generating plants.
Even as the manifestations of climate change mount, the President turns his back on the biggest step the nation has ever taken to confront it.
All in the name of bringing back coal jobs — a myopic Trump campaign pledge to prop up an industry that is increasingly on the outs with energy markets, and that has the capacity to employ not very much more than its current 50,000 Americans. That’s nothing compared to the potential in the clean-energy industries of the future.
Our story begins back in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases put out by power plants are pollutants, as defined by the Clean Air Act signed into law by Richard Nixon. That led to what regulators call the “endangerment finding,” which obligated the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take strong steps to curb those emissions.
Which the Obama administration, in 2014, did — with a plan that set targets for each state and grants immense flexibility for how to reach them. That quickly got tied up in court and is now being totally abandoned by a Trump administration hostile to the notion that climate change is real.
Trouble is, not even Trump’s fossil fuel-industry cheerleading EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, is bold enough to challenge the endangerment finding — because he knows full well that the science is sound. Which means, like it or not, the agency he leads remains legally required to do something. And so, Pruitt, stuck between Scylla and Charybdis with the waves growing ever more fierce, deep sixes the Clean Power Plan — with no substitute in sight but an absolute obligation to act.
It’s a deeply dishonest move, akin to saying the government believes there’s a viral outbreak that threatens public health, but also insists there’s no reason for the feds to lift a finger just yet.
The toll of the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico hurricanes and the West Coast wildfires will be knowable not only in lives but in monumental economic costs already felt in a 33,000-job loss for the month of September attributable to storms Harvey and Irma, which knocked 1.5 million workers offline.
A study in the journal Science this year found a drag of 1.2% of GDP for every degree Celsius the temperature rises.
Trump, pandering to coal country, can deny the evidence for man-made global warming and flout the law requiring him to do something about it. But sooner rather than later, the America First President has no choice but to act on his people’s behalf.