Repeal of Clean Power Plan puts coal profits ahead of health, communities

Trump-appointed EPA Chief Scott Pruitt announced plans to repeal the landmark Clean Power Plan designed to address carbon pollution and climate change, but did not offer a substitute or even an idea of what should fill the void.

The announcement, cheered by coal executives and lobbyists, comes as communities across the South have been battered this year with droughts, flooding, heat waves and two of the most powerful hurricanes on record. This year’s unusually violent weather has caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, much of which the federal government will have to cover.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is no longer protecting us, but instead protecting the wallets of coal industry executives and lobbyists,” said SELC’s Amanda Garcia. “It is flat-out irresponsible to kill the safeguards that were ultimately meant to protect us and our property from the kinds of extreme weather the country has suffered this year.”

The Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama administration but never implemented because of court challenges, was fashioned to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere, mainly from fossil-fuel fired power plants. Scientists have concluded the gases – mostly carbon dioxide – are responsible for warming the Earth, raising sea level, and providing the fuel needed to intensify storms.

This is the second recent effort from the Trump administration to gut the results of years of scientific research and policy planning aimed at reducing emissions that warm the planet and raise sea levels. In August, Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord, a global agreement to combat climate change.

“President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt are ignoring the reality of what is happening in our states, and in our neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “They are ignoring the realities of a changing climate that is routinely flooding places like Norfolk and Charleston. They’re essentially telling us political favors dished out to the coal sector are more important than our health and our homes.”

While campaigning, Trump called climate change a “hoax.” And Pruitt, as Oklahoma Attorney General, fought on behalf of coal companies and other science deniers to halt the Clean Power Plan. As EPA Administrator, he believes he has authority to repeal the plan and delay taking action to control carbon pollution from coal plants indefinitely, fulfilling one of Trump’s campaign promises.

What is unclear, Garcia said, is the effect this repeal might have on the booming renewable-energy industry.

Just the idea of the Clean Power Plan spurred research and investment in solar power, for example. However, even as the fate of the rule has been uncertain due to legal challenges, falling prices and increased demand have built a robust clean-energy industry that is thriving in the Southeast.

When the Clean Power Plan was finalized in 2015, SELC’s region had just 1,000 megawatts of solar power. Now, five times that amount helps power homes and industry across the Southeast. And there are projects poised to add 4,000 more megawatts of solar power in the planning and permitting stages. According to the Solar Foundation, nearly 20,000 workers in SELC’s region earn their livings in the solar industry.

A Clean Power Plan replacement could take years to put together at a time when the effects of climate change and sea-level rise are beginning to wreak havoc on our Southeast communities, Garcia said. Storm surge, and even so-called “sunny day” flooding, is affecting more communities and damaging more property.

“Nature is sending us a message and the EPA has clearly tuned it out,” Garcia said. “This repeal is taking us in a dangerous direction.”

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