By Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
My daughter went back to school here in West Virginia this week, so maybe that’s why, as Trump comes to my home state tonight to once again peddle his false promises of reviving coal by scrapping the Clean Power Plan, I’m reminded of the childhood game “two truths and a lie.” The Clean Power Plan is the EPA program to cut dangerous carbon pollution from coal and fracked gas power plants, and Trump will no doubt gleefully proclaim that, by gutting the standard, coal’s resurrection is just around the corner.
The lie is obvious — Trump has been preying on the fears of struggling Appalachian communities for years now by pledging to save the failing coal industry, wasting time and political capital that instead should have been spent on providing an economic transition for coal-impacted communities. This is a lie that is even more cold and calculating when you consider the following two undeniable truths.
The first truth: Coal is not coming back, and the rise of renewable energy is not slowing down. Coal companies continue to retire coal plants at the same rate under Trump as they did under his predecessor — about one every 16 days — in red and blue states alike. Over half of the nation’s coal plants (270, to be precise) are slated to retire, with more on the way. This progress is being driven by grassroots advocacy in communities fed up with fossil fuel pollution, and by market forces that favor renewable energy, which is being installed at record ratesbecause it’s now cheaper than dirty coal in most parts of the country.
The second truth: We are on track to meet the climate targets of the Clean Power Plan, even as Trump has worked to dismantle it. The standard called for a 32 percent reduction of electricity sector carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2030, and we have already reached a reduction of 28 percent according to the Energy Information Administration. Trump’s rollback doesn’t even establish carbon reduction targets, but we will continue to make headway nevertheless. Trump can’t stop climate progress, thanks to leadership from our states and cities, which is where decisions are actually made about how we produce electricity.
Trump can deny these truths all he likes, but they aren’t going away, and neither is the dire threat of climate change, which is why we need a strong policy like the Clean Power Plan. It’s a cruel irony that Trump and his acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, are announcing their unlawfully weak plan as worsening wildfires, flooding, and heat waves besiege our country. In contrast, the Clean Power Plan would have been well on its way by now toward its goals of saving lives, driving the growth of affordable clean energy like wind and solar, and meeting America’s international commitments to fight climate change.
The Trump administration’s new, enfeebled policy doesn’t come close to meeting the legal threshold required of the EPA to create safeguards against carbon emissions. In fact, it is exactly what Trump and Wheeler’s fossil fuel friends want, especially since they are losing money as the U.S. economy continues to rapidly move away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner, cheaper competitors like solar and wind. Their plan was primarily developed under disgraced former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, whose tenure was marred by a reckless war on science and shockingly unethical behavior that forced his resignation earlier this year. Yet despite Pruitt’s abysmal track record, Wheeler seems hell-bent on continuing Pruitt’s polluting legacy and rolling out his policies.
Unlike the Pruitt-Wheeler rollback, the Clean Power Plan provided a constructive and necessary framework for the U.S. to continue reducing carbon pollution, growing our clean energy economy, and protecting public health. The EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 32 percent, avoided 90,000 asthma attacks per year, and prevented 3,200 premature deaths per year by 2030.
Taken as a whole, the Clean Power Plan would have provided up to $45 billion in climate and public health benefits per year, even considering all compliance costs. The program would thus have afforded strong improvements in public health, sharp reductions in climate-disrupting carbon pollution and other harmful emissions, and a major boost to affordable clean energy industries like solar, wind, and energy efficiency.
By attempting to roll back the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with this weak strawman, the Trump administration is putting the safety of our communities at risk and making it clear that it has no intention of safeguarding people from the very real, immediate dangers of climate change.
The good news is that the Sierra Club is ready and eager to ramp up the fight and to accelerate our progress in transitioning the nation to clean energy. At the state and local level, we’ll keep winning victories to replace coal with clean energy. At the federal level, we’ll take aggressive action in the courts and at the state and local level to oppose this unlawful Pruitt-Wheeler plan. And make no mistake: We will succeed. Despite the best efforts of Trump, Wheeler, and their pals in the fossil fuel industry, clean energy is winning nationwide and helping to reduce the pollution that harms our families, our climate, our air, and our water. Join us.