Trump energizes coal producing states, but at what cost?

On Tuesday, the Trump administration formally proposed ending Obama-era restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will focus on reversing former President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change and deliver Donald Trump’s campaign promise to energize coal-producing states.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan used a flexible interpretation of the Clean Air Act to require states to cut greenhouse gas pollution from their power sectors. In 2015, the finalized rule assigned each state goals for limiting emissions from existing power plants. Switching from coal to natural gas, building wind farms, or solar farms were outlined means to reach states’ goals.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court stalled the Clean Power Plan after states sued to reverse its requirements, and it has never gone into effect.

Instead, the Trump plan, which EPA is calling the Affordable Clean Energy rule, depends on making individual coal power plants more efficient, a move with almost no effect in reducing carbon dioxide pollution. The new rule is expected to create a minor boost to the coal industry, but it will not reverse economic trends that led utilities to close coal-fired power plants in favor of cheaper natural gas.

Carbon emissions are expected to rise nationwide, especially in large coal-producing states such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming. The EPA’s analysis estimated that the proposal would lead to an increase in pollution-related illnesses, like asthma, and a rise in premature deaths. Critical effects are expected in West Virginia and Kentucky, both are in the top 10 poorest states according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule will not go uncontested, however. Democratic-leaning states and environmental advocacy groups are expected to file lawsuits against Trump’s proposal. However, if they lose, the Trump administration’s approach to climate regulation may be ironclad, restricting future attempts to recreate Obama’s environmental legacy.

In July, the Trump administration suppressed an EPA report warning that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of their daily life to put them at risk. People are exposed to Formaldehyde through wood composites in cabinets and furniture, as well as air pollution from major refineries. The new assessment could lead to stricter regulations from the EPA, and lawsuits targeting manufacturers.

Politico reported that decades’ of research had linked formaldehyde to nose and throat cancer and respiratory problems. The newer analysis suggested a connection to leukemia as well — conclusions that would gain significant credence if the EPA formally adopts them.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, oil, gas, and coal companies, as well as executives contributed more than $1 out of every $10 raised for Trump’s inauguration, for which he raised nearly $107 million overall. Additionally, the oil and gas industry spent $36.1 million on federal lobbying efforts from Jan. 1 through March 31. A 11 percent increase over the same period last year.

Trump’s administration buried the EPA’s independent research, and he used false claims to passionately advocate for coal in West Virginia on Tuesday.

“We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal. We love it. And you know that’s indestructible stuff. In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills. They fall down real quick. You can blow up those pipelines. They go like this, and you’re not going to fix them too fast. You can do a lot of things to those solar panels. But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal,” Trump exclaimed at a rally in Charleston.

Unfortunately, clean-coal is a misnomer, and it is not indestructible. Clean-coal is a term used to encompasses many techniques for capturing and storing CO². Currently, this technology is expensive and only utilized by one plant in the United States, the Petra Nova project in Texas.

Regardless of Trump advocating for clean-coal and plant technology, mining for coal is environmentally destructive and causes intense pollution in streams, waterways and the ozone layer.


[Politico] [CNN] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images via TakePart]