The Trump administration can’t simply wipe the need to reduce the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions off the books. So, last week’s announcement from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt that the agency is repealing the Clean Power Plan is less an edict and more of a reiteration of the Trump administration’s total disdain for the concerns of climate change in favor of fossil fuel industry interests.
The Trump administration is pretending that burning more coal, oil and gas has no connection to the more powerful, and more frequent, storms and wildfires the U.S. has been experiencing. Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump spoke briefly of the devastation from fires in California. He also spoke of the suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. On the same day, Pruitt announced the rollback of the Clean Power Plan.
This denial may bolster Trump’s base, but it ignores the reality of climate change, putting Americans, and the planet, at great risk.
Buried in a footnote in the EPA’s notice that it was repealing the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, is the fact that its determination that greenhouse gases are pollutants that endanger public health, and therefore must be regulated, is not affected by the repeal. This determination came after the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
This means that the EPA must replace the Clean Power Plan with other rules that purport to cut emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases. Of course, the agency can, and probably will, propose much less stringent emissions reduction targets.
Despite the outcry from the fossil-fuel industry and the legal challenges, led by Pruitt when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, the Clean Power Plan was far from draconian. Half the states are on track to surpass the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 targets, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group. Maine and the eight other northeastern states that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the regional carbon credit trading program, are among them.
States that are reliant on coal to power their utilities will have a harder time meeting their goals. Of course, the health and environmental consequences of burning coal aren’t contained by state boundaries. So, while states like Maine could easily comply with the plant’s targets, it still would be harmed by other states’ slow progress in reducing emissions.
Gutting the Clean Power Plan simply puts off action that is needed to avert much worse climate disasters than we are already experiencing.
The earth is warming and the consequences of that warming are already being felt. Without significant steps to reduce carbon emissions, the consequences will continue to worsen.
The most recent wildfires in northern California have killed 40 people. Entire neighborhoods were flattened by flames in Napa and Sonoma counties.
More than 8 million acres have burned in the western U.S. so far this year. By early September, the U.S. Forest Service had already spent more than $1.75 billion on fire supression this year. And the western wildfire season is 105 days longer than it was in 1970.
Anastasia Selby fought wildfires for seven years. Climate change is making them worse, she wrote in an essay for Vox last week.
“Wildland firefighters are especially attuned to how climate change puts us all at greater risk for destructive fires. We understand how higher temperatures and long-term drought are the perfect conditions for ignition,” she wrote. “To us, there’s little controversy that it’s happening, although not everyone believes it’s human caused. I do, and, along with others in the field, I wonder when those in power will take the steps needed to address climate change.”
Sadly, Selby and others with her concern will have to wait for an administration that first and foremost values human well-being.