The war on coal, er, breath­ing

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion - — The Bal­ti­more Sun

If the “war on coal is over,” as U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt de­clared this week, then the war on breath­ing has been launched. There is vir­tu­ally noth­ing about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to over­turn the Clean Power Plan, the EPA rule lim­it­ing green­house gas emis­sions from coal-fired power plants, that makes sense — not the claim of re­viv­ing the coal in­dus­try, not the prom­ise of util­ity sav­ings and es­pe­cially not the sug­ges­tion that Amer­i­cans stand to ben­e­fit from such a short-sighted, sci­ence-averse and de­struc­tive pol­icy change.

Burn­ing coal pro­duces large quan­ti­ties of air pol­lu­tion, in­clud­ing mer­cury, car­bon monox­ide, sul­fur diox­ide and nitro­gen ox­ides. And that’s not even count­ing the car­bon diox­ide, meth­ane and other green­house gases that con­trib­ute to cli­mate change. That isn’t con­jec­ture, it’s sci­en­tific fact. The only way elec­tric­ity cre­ated by burn­ing coal can be re­garded as “cheap” is to ig­nore th­ese hu­man costs — to ef­fec­tively sub­si­dize the grid by ig­nor­ing pre­ma­ture death, asthma at­tacks and bil­lions in med­i­cal ex­penses. And even then, coal-fired power is a du­bi­ous pur­suit given the rise of nat­u­ral gas and in­creas­ingly af­ford­able re­new­able en­ergy al­ter­na­tives.

None of this is a sur­prise, of course. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump promised to with­draw Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tive back when he was a can­di­date look­ing to en­er­gize sup­port­ers in coal-pro­duc­ing states, and Pruitt, the for­mer Ok­la­homa at­tor­ney gen­eral who sued to over­turn the Clean Power Plan, was just the true be­liever to ma­nip­u­late the data and get the job done.

The good news is that it’s beyond the power of the EPA to turn back the clock en­tirely. Some states have put in place their own re­stric­tions on power plants that aim to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions by lev­els equal to, and in some cases ex­ceed­ing, those in the Clean Power Plan.

Let’s also dis­pense with the non­sense that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is cre­at­ing jobs. Coal isn’t the fu­ture, clean en­ergy is. And this de­ci­sion won’t help the U.S. in­vest in the fu­ture — such as so­lar, wind or en­ergy ef­fi­ciency — but in­stead will force Amer­i­cans to pay for the con­se­quences of pol­lu­tion, from mer­cury-laden fish to more Code Red air qual­ity days when con­di­tions are so dire that young peo­ple, those with res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases and the el­derly are ad­vised to re­main in­doors.

Trump may not be an out­right de­nier of cli­mate change, but from an­nounc­ing a with­drawal from the Paris Ac­cord four months ago to now aban­don­ing air qual­ity stan­dards, he may as well be a flat-earther. Cli­mate change is the real dan­ger fac­ing the United States, not over-reg­u­la­tion.

One last point. Pres­i­dent Obama never de­clared war on coal. And the Clean Power Plan wasn’t cost­ing the U.S. $33 bil­lion. Only a gross dis­tor­tion of the num­bers can sug­gest that. All that Trump has suc­ceeded in do­ing is to put a greater bur­den on states and the fed­eral courts to im­pose pro­tec­tions through lo­cal laws and law­suits.

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