OF THE many negative results stemming from President Trump’s election, this was perhaps the most predictable: The Environmental Protection Agency revealed Tuesday a sorry new climate-change plan, seemingly designed to weaken as much as legally possible the federal government’s response to the greatest long-term threat the world faces.
One does not have to take the word of the countless outside experts panning the proposal, titled, in Orwellian fashion, the Affordable Clean Energy rule. Just examine the Trump EPA’s own documents. These reveal that the administration’s plan would result in up to 1,400 American deaths every year by 2030, as more coal burning results in more air pollution. In addition to planet-warming greenhouse gases, coal plants spew fine particulate matter that enters people’s lungs and bloodstreams, contributing to heart and breathing problems, from asthma and bronchitis to premature death. The EPA projects 48,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma and at least 21,000 additional missed school days every year. The pain would be concentrated in Midwestern states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which were crucial to Mr. Trump’s election.
This grisly toll is part of why the EPA also had to admit — buried in two tables in its analysis — that its new plan will cost the country on net billions of dollars, all to prop up the dirty coal industry, which science would counsel should be phased out. Yet, though environmental groups and state attorneys general undoubtedly will file many lawsuits, the rule also appears to have been written to resist various legal assaults.
If there is a bright side, it is that market forces are driving many of the dirtiest and oldest coal plants out of business, so power-sector greenhouse-gas emissions probably will decline even under the Trump administration’s plan as utilities burn cheaper natural gas and deploy increasingly inexpensive renewables. Yet more coal would nevertheless be burned than would otherwise have been the case — driving greenhouse-gas emissions and ambient air pollution higher than they would have been. Moreover, if market conditions change, coal use — and its many associated harms — could surge. In fact, this appears to be the Trump administration’s goal, as it considers ways to force the purchase of comparatively expensive coal-fired electricity. Even if coal does not dramatically rebound as Mr. Trump would like, this new policy would still commit the United States to treading water on climate change for years.
So do a long list of the president’s other short-sighted regulatory rollbacks, such as his undermining of car and truck fuel-efficiency standards and his exit from the Paris climate deal, which will make the United States the only country in the world not party to the voluntary pact.
The country, and the world, are losing precious time, even as extreme weather, wildfires and other major disasters offer Americans a taste of what is in store.v