The Trump Administration Guts Clean Air

Ken AshfordEnergy and Conservation, Environment & Global Warming & Energy, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

On Monday, as had been expected, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said at an event in Kentucky that he would formally move to repeal what the E.P.A.’s Web site referred to as “the so-called ‘Clean Power Plan.’ ” That plan had been central to the United States’ commitment, under Paris, to reduce power-plant emissions by an estimated thirty per cent in coming years. Without it, there is no hope of meeting those goals even outside the framework of the accord; the decision will have a negative effect on the world’s chances of keeping the increase in global temperature below certain calamitous thresholds, on America’s influence in the world, and, as other countries move ahead on more sustainable technologies, on the competitiveness of the nation’s industries. Pruitt put aside estimates that the cleaner air resulting from the implementation of the plan would have prevented tens of thousands of deaths from respiratory diseases. The E.P.A. press release also celebrated the grand isolationism of the move, saying that the agency, in calculating the costs of the rules, would no longer account for certain “supposed global benefits.”

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said in Kentucky, where he was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Clean Power Plan, as he saw it, had really just been “about picking winners and losers”—as if the whole climate-change thing had been concocted as the result of a grudge against fossil fuels (Pruitt’s past skepticism about climate science suggests that he might believe this) or to help China triumph (as his boss has implied). Pruitt complained that rules led to things like lawsuits, which slowed down the economy. (The implementation of the Clean Power Plan had already been delayed, as it happens, by a lawsuit that Pruitt had helped bring as the attorney general of Oklahoma.) Pruitt, one of several members of the Administration whose use of private planes has come under scrutiny, further praised the move against the Clean Power Plan in a broad paean to small government. “Let me tell you something, the E.P.A.—and no federal agency—should ever use its authority to say to you we’re going to declare war on any sector of our economy. That’s wrong.”

As Pruitt spoke about winners and losers, wildfires were consuming thousands of homes in Northern California, killing at least fifteen people and scorching more than a hundred thousand acres. Puerto Ricans, meanwhile, were still struggling to get clean water. Three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, the electric grid on the island is still largely down; most of those who have power are getting it from diesel-burning backup generators. As Jon Lee Anderson writes in a report from Puerto Rico, Trump’s visit there last week did little to counter the residents’ sense of abandonment. It may be hard to isolate the cause of a single storm or fire, but the science makes it clear that climate change increases the intensity and the frequency of both. If, as expected, Tropical Storm Ophelia reaches hurricane strength later this week, it will be the tenth consecutive such storm to become a hurricane—the highest number in more than a century. (There have been five major hurricanes this year, and three that hit land as Category 4 hurricanes—another record.) The Miami Herald pointed to a different measure: the current accumulated cyclone energy, which, it noted, is “254 percent higher than average with seven weeks left in the season.”

Following Pruitt’s statement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed to sue the administration. “By seeking to repeal the Clean Power Plan — especially without any credible plan to replacing it — the Trump administration’s campaign of climate change denial continues, once again putting industry special interests ahead of New Yorkers’ and all Americans’ safety, health, and the environment,” he said in a statement. Environmental groups were already threatening legal action and protests prior to Pruitt’s comments on Monday. “Trump can’t reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen, and we’ll fight him and Scott Pruitt in the courts, in the streets, and at the state and local level across America to protect the health of every community,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement on Friday.