Don’t gut the Clean Power Plan

If Repub­li­cans have a bet­ter way, they should ex­plain it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

REPUB­LI­CANS HAVE pledged that they would not just re­peal Oba­macare, but also re­place it with a se­ri­ous al­ter­na­tive. They should hold them­selves to the same stan­dard on cli­mate change. If Pres­i­dent Trump moves to evis­cer­ate the na­tion’s ef­forts to com­bat global warm­ing, Repub­li­cans must have a be­liev­able al­ter­na­tive plan ready that would re­duce emis­sions as much or more than cur­rent reg­u­la­tions would, en­abling the United States to meet its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments.

Mr. Trump can start the process of un­der­min­ing fed­eral ef­forts to re­duce the emis­sions of heat trap­ping gases any time he wants — and he ap­pears poised to be­gin soon. Much of the na­tion’s cli­mate pol­icy was not ex­plic­itly writ­ten into law by Congress; rather, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency as­sem­bled it dur­ing the Obama years, based on gen­eral au­thor­i­ties Congress gave the agency years ago in the Clean Air Act. Us­ing this ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­proach, the EPA has over the past decade fi­nal­ized a se­ries of rules on both ve­hi­cles and power plants, most no­tably the Clean Power Plan, which de­mands that elec­tric util­i­ties cut their emis­sions from ex­ist­ing power sta­tions. What all this means is that the coun­try’s cli­mate pol­icy is quite vul­ner­a­ble to on­go­ing le­gal chal­lenges and to at­tacks from the new ad­min­is­tra­tion — much more so than poli­cies Congress has specif­i­cally autho­rized, such as Oba­macare.

Now that the Se­nate has con­firmed the pres­i­dent’s pick to lead the EPA — for­mer Ok­la­homa at­tor­ney gen­eral Scott Pruitt — The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Muf­son re­port that Mr. Trump is pre­par­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders de­mand­ing that the agency re­write the Clean Power Plan and a wa­ter qual­ity rule, ap­pear­ing to con­firm pre­dic­tions that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion would be hos­tile to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. At best, a re­write would sig­nal that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will put en­force­ment of the Clean Power Plan on hold as a long, for­mal process of reg­u­la­tion draft­ing and lit­i­ga­tion takes its course. The coun­try could also see its premier global warm­ing pol­icy re­placed by a sub­stan­tially weak­ened rule that lends the United States lit­tle in­ter­na­tional cred­i­bil­ity — and harms what had been ac­cel­er­at­ing global ef­forts to fight emis­sions col­lec­tively.

For all the talk of job-killing fed­eral over­reach, the EPA es­ti­mated that the Clean Power Plan would cost the econ­omy only $5.1 bil­lion to $8.4 bil­lion in 2030 — far less than a drop in what is now a $17 tril­lion econ­omy — and that ig­nores the value of var­i­ous health and cli­mate ben­e­fits on the other side of the ledger. Even for those on the fence about cli­mate sci­ence, it should be clear enough that the United States must par­tic­i­pate in the in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to hedge against very bad po­ten­tial cli­mate out­comes.

If Mr. Trump or other Repub­li­cans have a bet­ter way of do­ing this, they should de­tail it be­fore do­ing any­thing to the Clean Power Plan. In fact, a co­terie of se­nior for­mer GOP of­fi­cials have of­fered a con­ser­va­tive path for­ward, propos­ing to re­place EPA cli­mate rules with a sub­stan­tial car­bon tax whose rev­enue would be re­bated straight back to Amer­i­cans. This is what con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ing looks like. What do Mr. Trump and the rest of his party want to do?

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