Amid ur­gent cli­mate warn­ings, EPA gives coal a re­prieve

The Prince George Citizen - - Money - Ellen KNICKMEYER

WASH­ING­TON — Amid sci­en­tists’ in­creas­ingly ur­gent warn­ings, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion or­dered a sweep­ing about-face Wed­nes­day on Obama-era ef­forts to fight cli­mate change, eas­ing re­stric­tions on coal-fired power plants in a move it pre­dicted would re­vi­tal­ize Amer­ica’s sag­ging coal in­dus­try.

As min­ers in hard hats and coal-coun­try law­mak­ers ap­plauded, En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief An­drew Wheeler signed a mea­sure that scraps one of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s key ini­tia­tives to rein in fos­sil fuel emis­sions. The re­place­ment rule gives states more lee­way in de­cid­ing whether to re­quire plants to make lim­ited ef­fi­ciency up­grades.

Wheeler said he ex­pects more coal plants to open as a re­sult. But one state, New York, im­me­di­ately said it would go to court to challenge the ac­tion, and more law­suits are likely.

The EPA move fol­lows pledges by can­di­date and then Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to res­cue the U.S. coal in­dus­try, which saw near-record num­bers of plant closings last year in the face of com­pe­ti­tion from cheaper nat­u­ral gas and re­new­ables. It’s the latest and one of the big­gest of dozens of en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tory roll­backs by his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It came de­spite sci­en­tists’ cau­tions that the world must cut fos­sil fuel emis­sions to stave off the worst of global warming and the EPA’s own anal­y­sis that the new rule would re­sult in the deaths of an extra 300 to 1,500 peo­ple each year by 2030, ow­ing to ad­di­tional air pol­lu­tion from the power grid.

“Amer­i­cans want re­li­able en­ergy that they can af­ford,” Wheeler declared at the sign­ing cer­e­mony, with White House chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney along­side to un­der­score Trump’s ap­proval.

There’s no deny­ing “fos­sil fu­els will con­tinue to be an im­por­tant part of the mix,” Wheeler said.

Law­mak­ers and in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives from coal states blamed fed­eral reg­u­la­tion, not the mar­ket, for the decades­long trend of de­clin­ing U.S. coal use and said Wed­nes­day’s act would stave off more coal plant closings.

“We’re not ready for re­new­able en­ergy... so we need coal,” declared Rep. David McKin­ley, a West Vir­ginia Repub­li­can.

But rather than a sen­si­ble eco­nomic move, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi de­scribed the change as a “dirty power scam” and “a stun­ning give­away to big pol­luters.” She called cli­mate change “the ex­is­ten­tial threat of our time” and said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was ig­nor­ing sci­en­tific stud­ies and yield­ing to spe­cial in­ter­ests.

Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan is cur­rently stayed by the Supreme Court while chal­lenges play out from more than two dozen states that con­tend it ex­ceeded au­thor­ity under the fed­eral Clean Air Act.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates and Obama-era EPA of­fi­cials in­volved in draft­ing the nowre­pealed plan said Trump’s re­place­ment rule will do lit­tle to cut cli­mate-dam­ag­ing emis­sions from coal-fired power plants, at a time when polls show Amer­i­cans are in­creas­ingly pay­ing at­ten­tion to global warming.

“I can’t think of a sin­gle rule that would do more to set back the ef­fort to do what we need to do to ad­dress the crit­i­cal threat of cli­mate change,” said Joe Goff­man, who helped draft the re­pealed Clean Power Plan.

The Obama plan aimed at en­cour­ag­ing what al­ready had been mar­ket-driven changes in the na­tion’s elec­tri­cal grid, push­ing coal-fired power plants out and prod­ding util­i­ties to rely more on nat­u­ral gas, so­lar, wind and other lower- or no-carbon fu­els.

Obama EPA head Gina McCarthy said Trump of­fi­cials had “made painfully clear that they are in­ca­pable of ris­ing to the challenge and tack­ling this cri­sis. They have shown a cal­lous dis­re­gard for EPA’s mis­sion, a pat­tern of cli­mate science de­nial and an in­ex­cus­able in­dif­fer­ence to the con­se­quences of cli­mate change.”

Burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els for elec­tric­ity, trans­porta­tion and heat is the main hu­man source of heat-trap­ping carbon emis­sions.

Trump has re­jected sci­en­tific warn­ings on cli­mate change, in­clud­ing a dire re­port this year from sci­en­tists at more than a dozen fed­eral agen­cies not­ing that global warming from fos­sil fu­els “presents growing chal­lenges to hu­man health and qual­ity of life.” Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials ar­gue cli­mate science is im­per­fect, and that it’s not clear cli­mate change would have as great an im­pact as fore­cast.

Democrats pledge to make com­bat­ting cli­mate change a ma­jor is­sue in the pres­i­den­tial race. They con­demned Wed­nes­day’s act.

Pres­i­den­tial con­tender El­iz­a­beth War­ren called for broad ac­tion to re­duce emis­sions, say­ing “the cli­mate cri­sis is en­dan­ger­ing our coun­try, our health, our econ­omy and our na­tional se­cu­rity.”

New York At­tor­ney Gen­eral Leti­tia James quickly tweeted a pledge that her state would sue, an early sig­nal of what en­vi­ron­men­tal groups said would be more court chal­lenges.

Wheeler told re­porters af­ter the sign­ing that he ex­pected new coal plants to open as a re­sult.

“We’re lev­el­ling the play­ing field” in terms of reg­u­la­tions on var­i­ous en­ergy sources “to al­low that in­vest­ment to oc­cur,” he said. “We are try­ing to ad­dress cli­mate change, but we’re do­ing it with the au­thor­i­ties we have.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also is propos­ing to roll back an Obama-era mileage rule re­quir­ing tougher mileage stan­dards for cars and light trucks. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups prom­ise court chal­lenges there, too.

An As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis Tues­day of fed­eral air data showed U.S. progress on clean­ing the air may be stag­nat­ing af­ter decades of im­prove­ment. De­spite Trump’s re­peated false claims that Amer­ica’s air is the clean­est it’s ever been, there were 15 per cent more days with un­health­ful air both last year and the year be­fore than on av­er­age from 2013 through 2016, the four years when Amer­ica had its fewest num­ber of those days since at least 1980.

AP science writer Seth Borenstein con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AP FILE PHOTO

A shovel pre­pares to dump a load of coal into a 320-ton truck at the Arch Coal Inc.-owned Black Thun­der mine in Wright, Wyo.

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