By Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club
Today, Scott Pruitt doubled down on his Faustian bargain with his fossil fuel industry cronies by signing a proposal to rescind the Clean Power Plan, the first and only national standards to reduce the massive climate pollution emitted by our nation’s outdated fleet of coal- and gas-burning power plants. These sensible standards would help secure our children’s future by offering a reasonable path to transition our country away from the dirty fuels of the past and to expand clean energy resources like wind and solar.
EPA had previously determined that the Clean Power Plan would benefit children’s health both by limiting the pollution primarily responsible for causing climate change and by reducing harmful soot and smog that causes respiratory illnesses like asthma. But Pruitt only has eyes for his fossil fuel allies – children’s health be damned.
Pruitt’s disregard for children’s health is blatant. Here’s what he says in the proposal to rescind the Clean Power Plan:
The CPP was anticipated to lower ambient concentrations of PM2.5 [soot] and ozone [smog], and some of the benefits of reducing these pollutants would have accrued to children. . . . To the extent that states use other mechanisms in order to comply with the [national air quality standards], and still achieve the criteria pollution reductions that would have occurred under the CPP, this proposed rescission will not have a disproportionate adverse effect on children’s health. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, if states happen to adopt entirely new requirements that mandate the same reductions in soot and smog that the Clean Power Plan would have achieved, then rescinding the Plan won’t harm children’s health. This wishful (and circular) reasoning is cold comfort for the millions of children suffering from respiratory diseases. Adding insult to injury, the Regulatory Impact Analysis for this proposal assumes – contrary to clear scientific evidence – that levels of soot below the national standards that were issued in 2012 are not harmful. Of course, it isn’t surprising that climate-denying Pruitt would also deny the science demonstrating that breathing soot at any level harms children’s health.
And as for climate impacts, EPA previously determined that:
Children’s unique physiological and developmental factors contribute to making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. Impacts to children are expected from heat waves, air pollution, infectious and waterborne illnesses, and mental health effects resulting from extreme weather events. In addition, children are among those especially susceptible to most allergic diseases, as well as health effects associated with heat waves, storms, and floods. Additional health concerns may arise in low income households, especially those with children, if climate change reduces food availability and increases prices, leading to food insecurity within households.
Yet even though climate change will disproportionately harm children, Pruitt is hard at work attempting to undo the very safeguards that would protect them from these dangerous impacts. Heedless of the children and families around the nation who have lost their homes due to an unprecedented string of powerful hurricanes and intense wildfires, Pruitt is busy trying to line the pockets of his fossil fuel allies in order to advance his own political career. Pruitt’s job is to safeguard communities, but instead his actions will help ensure that these extreme weather events occur even more often in the future.
Pruitt claims that the Clean Power Plan is illegal, but in fact the Clean Air Act requires EPA to limit carbon pollution from coal- and gas-burning power plants and Pruitt offers no replacement that would fulfill that obligation. Instead, the notice simply says that EPA will consider whether, how, and when to propose new standards. Rescinding these safeguards with only an indefinite statement that EPA might eventually set replacement standards in the future is a violation of the agency’s obligation under the Clean Air Act to control dangerous pollution from major sources like power plants.
The Clean Power Plan was years in the making. Scientists reached consensus by the 1980s that human-induced climate change was a major global problem, and the United States ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. A decade later, after EPA had confirmed but failed to act on its Clean Air Act authority to set standards for climate pollution, the Sierra Club sent a letter demanding that EPA limit carbon emissions from power plants, the largest stationary sources of this pollution. EPA refused, and it took two lawsuits and the threat of a third before EPA finally agreed to issue a final rule by 2012 – a decade after Sierra Club’s initial demand and five years after the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to address climate pollution. Then EPA missed even that deadline and finally issued standards in 2015, when it adopted the Clean Power Plan after receiving and considering unprecedented public input.
Along with rising sea levels, global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen steadily during the years it has taken for EPA to set standards to reduce climate pollution:
In the meantime, an entire generation of children has grown to adulthood waiting for serious climate action by the U.S. government. They are the ones who will inherit the burdens of our failure to address this threat. And while the previous administration made groundbreaking progress in reducing greenhouse gases, Pruitt and company have shown they simply don’t care about future generations. That’s why we need to fight back against this reckless decision and make sure that our children, and their children in turn, will have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy and sustainable climate. Fortunately, the U.S. transition to clean energy is already underway. As more and more communities experience the benefits of that transition, it will be impossible for Trump and Pruitt to turn back the clock.