Aban­don­ing clean power

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

From a cer­tain per­spec­tive, En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt’s move to rip up the Clean Power Plan, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture cli­mate change pol­icy, hardly seems rad­i­cal. The EPA chief re­pealed a rule he claims was il­le­gal. In­deed, it was some­thing of a stretch for the EPA to reg­u­late planet-warm­ing car­bon diox­ide un­der the Clean Air Act, a law orig­i­nally writ­ten to han­dle more tra­di­tional pol­lu­tants. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion took an ex­pan­sive ap­proach, push­ing the law as far as it could so that Obama’s cli­mate ne­go­tia­tors could cred­i­bly prom­ise that the United States would cut its car­bon emis­sions if other na­tions would, too.

Yet the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan did not, in our view and that of many ex­perts, break the law. The Supreme Court has al­ready ruled that the EPA must reg­u­late car­bon diox­ide un­der the Clean Air Act. There is a strong chance that the court would have up­held the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s now- de­funct strat­egy to do so, or at least much of it. But now the coun­try may never know, be­cause its chief en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cer wants not to do as much as he can to pro­tect the at­mos­phere, but to do as lit­tle as the law de­mands, threat­en­ing the painstak­ing progress the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion made in co­or­di­nat­ing an in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to cli­mate change.

Pruitt has not yet pro­posed a re­place­ment plan; he be­gan a pub­lic com­ment process that may lead to a new set of reg­u­la­tions on car­bon emis­sions. It is tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble that his EPA will de­cide to in­state new rules that are se­ri­ous, if less ag­gres­sive than Obama’s. But ev­ery­thing about Pruitt’s his­tory — re­lent­lessly su­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, deny­ing cli­mate sci­ence, shut­ting en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist voices out of the EPA — sug­gests he will aim to do the min­i­mum the courts will al­low.

As if to con­firm that read­ing, Pruitt an­nounced his Clean Power Plan roll­back in coal coun­try, declar­ing that “the war against coal is over.” Econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man has pointed out that 18 times more jobs have been lost at depart­ment stores than in the coal busi­ness since the turn of the cen­tury. Nev­er­the­less, it is on be­half of a dirty, dy­ing and rel­a­tively small in­dus­try that Pruitt will go down as one of the na­tion’s worst en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ards. He may be­lieve that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate plan was rad­i­cal. But his ap­proach — anti-sci­en­tific, ide­o­log­i­cal, a be­trayal of his of­fice — is far more so.

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