The EPA head is quietly trying to reverse the only federal limit on carbon emissions for power plants.
by Tom Allen of Portland, co-chair of the Ocean Conservancy Board of Directors
Portland Press Herald op-ed
President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears set on repealing the Clean Power Plan, America’s only federal limit on carbon emissions from existing power plants.
By law, the EPA must solicit public input, but by holding just one hearing – on Tuesday and Wednesday, in the heart of coal country (West Virginia) – Pruitt seeks to minimize public transparency and boost industry influence over the process.
The Clean Power Plan was adopted by the EPA under then-President Barack Obama only after hearings across the country gave all concerned a voice in shaping a policy to reduce the carbon emissions that are disrupting our weather, damaging our coasts and maritime industries and making the ocean more acidic.
Pruitt is attempting to reverse that policy, as quietly as possible, to support the fossil fuel industry he served before being appointed to his current position.
Maine and other Northeastern states pay a high price for carbon dioxide from power plants to our west. The chemistry is simple: Carbon dioxide plus water yields carbonic acid. A warmer, more acidic ocean endangers shellfish, lobster and other fisheries. More frequent, intense storms and rising sea levels lead to more power outages, flooding and costly damage to roads and buildings.
The Clean Power Plan followed the lead of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Maine has enjoyed substantial benefits from the pact. Over $60 million from the RGGI sale of carbon credits has been used to provide energy-efficient solutions for homes and businesses. Because of the RGGI, we have more clean-energy jobs in Maine and have paid less money to international fossil fuel corporations. Perhaps that’s why New Jersey is poised to return to the RGGI and Virginia is expected to join it: They recognize its value.
Maine will be allowed to meet the federal Clean Power Plan standards by continuing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which had already set power plant carbon limits before the Clean Power Plan took effect. But the ocean and Maine’s fisheries and other maritime activities are profoundly affected by emissions from states that are not part of the RGGI. Warming ocean temperatures, increasing acidification and rising sea levels are a destructive combination. On the Atlantic coast, according to government scientists, sea-level rise will have the greatest negative social impact in three areas: Maine, the Chesapeake Bay and Florida.
Maine’s fishing community is already feeling the impacts of climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming 99 percent faster than the rest of our Earth’s oceans. Maine lobstermen, commercial fishermen and clammers are concerned about the impact that warming waters, ocean acidification, and the arrival of invasive species have on their businesses and livelihood. We’re also expecting another season with shrimp fishing closed in the Gulf of Maine.
As the Gulf of Maine warms up, cod are moving north to colder water. This mainstay of the Gulf of Maine economy for centuries may not be saved by fishing regulations, no matter how strict. Menhaden, herring, hake and northern shrimp populations are dangerously depleted. Sea life we’re not used to in the Gulf, like blue crabs, black sea bass and longfin squid, are turning up in fishermen’s nets. More invasive species like green crabs are devastating clam flats. Lobster abundance in southern New England has declined by more than 70 percent because of rising ocean temperatures.
Ocean acidification may have less visible but still serious consequences. For more than 50 years, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii has shown steady annual increases. Since the early 1990s, when tests of surface seawater began in the same area, its acidity has been increasing with a parallel regularity to atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Congress I wrote a bill, often cited as FOAREM (the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act), to establish our country’s first program to improve understanding of the risks of ocean acidification to our fisheries and coastal communities. The idea was only incorporated in law several weeks after I had left the House and Barack Obama had taken office as president.
Warming ocean water, increasing acidity and rising sea levels will have a significant adverse effect on Maine’s culture and economy unless we act. All of us tied to the Gulf of Maine by location or employment have a vital stake in the EPA proceedings designed to do away with the Clean Power Plan. We need to stand up and speak out against the Trump administration’s attempt to eliminate it.