Trump and Pruitt: Throwing more coal on the fire

Adriana DiSilvestro, Contributing Writer

Criticism of President Donald Trump’s environmental policy reached new heights last week when his administration announced that it was planning on rolling back the Obama-era “clean power plan.” Videos circulated around the internet of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt smiling as he signed the rollback with a group of cheering miners in Kentucky, where the announcement was well-received as locals anticipated the supposed resurgence of coal that was to come.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was a piece of legislation that essentially planned for the U.S. to reduce emissions levels 32 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. In order to regulate this, the CPP assigned emission reductions individually to each state based upon its previous emissions output. What the CPP did not regulate, however, was how states were allowed to do this. While the mandate was in place, many states planned on investing in renewables and moving from coal to natural gas in order to meet emissions goals. Additionally, an EPA proposal was also finalized alongside the CPP, which stated that all emissions from new power plants would have to be regulated according to better environmental standards. This effectively made it impossible for any new coal facilities to be built unless they adhered to very strict standards, such as having the capacity to capture and get rid of almost all quantifiable emissions, a costly and time consuming task.

As expected, there was significant pushback from states and industries that relied heavily on the profits generated by fossil fuels and coal production, including Pruitt’s native Oklahoma. The plan however, was designed to begin the transition that would allow the United States to keep pace with the Paris Climate Agreement. Many “red states” recognized the consequences of non-compliance and began preparations to comply even as industries staged protests. Other states, such as New Jersey and Rhode Island, readily accepted the legislation, recognizing the benefits of transitioning to green energy.

From a climate change perspective, it’s easy to see why this legislation, although weak in some areas, was a step in the right direction for the mobilization of environmental actions. The Trump administration, however, has framed it as an over-regulatory policy that will hinder economic growth, repress the fossil fuel industry, and hold large consequences for communities that have a history of coal mining and production. If we engage with the administration’s economic-minded reasoning for supporting this legislation, however, we see something potentially sinister about their argument.

The argument that lifting the CPP will create economic growth and allow coal to flourish is fundamentally untrue from a neoliberal economics standpoint – the preferred conservative model for the United States’s economy. Coal’s growth has been dead for a long time; economists and industry leaders know it. Fracking, or natural gas production, while also environmentally damaging, has far outpaced the production of coal in both efficiency and cost. Even if we go along with the Trump administration’s growth rhetoric, we can see that repealing the CPP is not going to allow coal to flourish, and in many ways it is actually going to hinder the economy. Europe, and many individual states, have recognized that the future job market is in green energy; but by taking away incentives to engage with green technology, Trump and Pruitt have shot the United States’s chances for growth in the foot.

So then why repeal? Even if we engage with the growth and de-regulatory arguments that the administration is spewing, it is easy to see that the stated reasons for repealing the CPP are fundamentally incorrect. The answer, as it appears, is an ugly one. Trump and his industry circle could be appealing to the coal community in an effort to earn him votes. I believe that they do not actually want to help or think that they can help these communities recover; in fact, I think they know that nothing can stimulate coal growth. Rather, I hypothesize their ultimate goal is to keep the profits coming for large fossil fuel industries and themselves for as long as possible, and in order to do so, conservatives need to stay in power.

Repealing the CPP is the first step in completing a demobilization of the environmental agenda, which will allow the fossil fuel industry to flourish until extraction is no longer an option. Our president, and his circle of ultra-wealthy industry tycoons, are in it for themselves. There is no longer any sound logic that makes sense when we talk about moving away from green technology; and there is no evidence left to support that favoring coal will help anyone. The demobilization of the environmental agenda will be the downfall of the America’s economy, and potentially the globe, as our country continues pumping out carbon dioxide. Yet, when everything goes up in flames, you can expect that no one in the White House will be there to put out the fire.

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