News | May 1, 2018

SELC, 16 Southeastern conservation groups urge EPA to abandon Clean Power Plan repeal

Failing to address carbon dioxide pollution through reasonable measures like the Clean Power Plan could lead to a host of dangers to the Southeast and Atlantic Coast including daily flooding, more widespread and menacing storm surge, and devastating economic loss as industries and workers flee to cooler, drier states, according to comments provided to the EPA from SELC.

SELC is objecting to the EPA’s move to repeal the Clean Power Plan. The repeal fulfills one of President Trump’s campaign promises in exchange for putting a million people, and billions of dollars of property along the Southeast coast, in danger from rising temperatures and rising seas, according to Amanda Garcia, managing attorney in SELC’s Tennessee office. Garcia compiled the comments objecting to the repeal.

Southeastern families are already living on coasts where the seas have risen as much a foot since scientists began studying the swelling ocean levels. Flooding unrelated to storms happens on average once a month. But our grandkids could endure as much as six feet of sea-level rise, which means some Atlantic coast cities and towns could be flooded an average of every other day.

SELC cited a study that shows 40 percent of East Coast oceanfront communities will be “chronically inundated” if the water levels continue to rise as forecast.

This might seem like politicians arguing over complicated federal laws, but it is really about the safety, health, and prosperity of Southeasterners,” Garcia said. “A million people along the Atlantic could be flooded out of their homes and cities if nothing is done. It won’t be that far into the future when flooding makes it routinely impossible for people living near the coast to get to work, get to their kids’ schools, or even get to hospitals in an emergency.

For decades, emissions from fossil fuels have filled the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which traps heat and makes the planet warmer and the seas higher. The goal of the Clean Power Plan was to cut carbon dioxide emissions across the entire electric system, limiting the damage caused by the warming trend. It was a key environmental effort by former President Barack Obama, but a legal challenge put the Clean Power Plan on hold.

Before the court could rule on the validity of the Clean Power Plan, the Trump administration moved to repeal it.

The law requires the government to accept comments on its proposal to repeal it before finalizing its decision. But EPA has already started laying plans to replace the Clean Power Plan—if at all—with a near-meaningless measure that will do little to curb carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants. That EPA is jumping the gun makes plain that the repeal “is a rulemaking designed to reach a predetermined outcome,” Garcia wrote.

Worse, she noted, this repeal comes as utilities in the Southeast have started making significant strides in cutting carbon emissions, primarily because lower carbon energy also costs less than coal.

Coupled with the Trump EPA’s other rollbacks on reasonable measure to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, a repeal “could ultimately prove ruinous to our Southeastern communities,” Garcia wrote.

To prevent climate change from irrevocably transforming the economy and environment of the Southeast,” concluded Garcia, “EPA should abandon the Repeal Proposal … and work urgently to implement and strengthen the Clean Power Plan.

Joining SELC in its comments to EPA are 16 Southeastern conservation groups, including Tennessee Clean Water Network, Coosa River Basin Initiative/Upper Coosa Riverkeeper, Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light, One Hundred Miles, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Altahama Riverkeeper, Upstate Forever, Save Our Saluda, Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Environment Georgia, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Gasp, Coastal Conservation League, Southface, and South Carolina Wildlife Federation.