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The U.S. Faces it's Second Big Loss for the Environment in Two Weeks

EPA Moves to Roll Back Coal Plant Rule while at Global Climate Talks and Proposes Gutting Obama-Era Rule Protecting 117 Million Americans’ Water

 


On Thursday, December 6, 2018, as world leaders gathered in Poland for the United Nations 24th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties, the climate summit where governments are debating how to halve global emissions over the next 12 years – EPA announced their proposed gutting of an Obama-era rule requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Then on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, the Trump administration unveiled its plan to replace an Obama-era rule that sought to safeguard drinking water for millions of Americans by extending federal protections to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.

The Trump Administration arrived earlier this week in Poland to pitch fossil fuels with U.S. officials touting natural gas and argued in support of coal’s place in the electricity mix and defying increasingly desperate international negotiations to scale down planet-warming gases.

At a press conference at the agency’s headquarters, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the Obama administration’s rule too strict, calling it “disingenuous” and “not adequately demonstrated,” and said the new proposal would “set high yet achievable standards that are rooted in reality.”

Wheeler, who rejects climate science and until last year worked as a lobbyist for one of the country’s most influential coal companies – Murray Energy. Wheeler also represented Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining firm that could benefit from Trump’s December 2017 announcement to halve the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The proposal would allow new coal plants to emit up to 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity, up from the 1,400-pound limit under the existing 2015 rule. It’s a last-ditch effort to halt the continued closures of coal plants. Three more coal-fired power stations announced plans to shut down in October alone, adding to the 17,000 megawatts of coal-plant capacity that retired between January 2017 and June 2018, according to a September report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Even with the proposal, the EPA projects there will be no new coal plants with or without technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions and store them.

Carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming, are expected to hit a record high this year, increasing 2.7 percent, according to a UN report released Wednesday. That comes a year after emissions surged 1.6 percent, ending a three-year plateau. Burning coal in India and China contributed the most to the increase, but the United States’ emissions rose 2.5 percent as oil use increased.

This latest attempt from the Trump administration to give industry a license to pollute is irresponsible and illogical from both a health and economic perspective.

During the Obama administration, the coal industry and its Republican allies blamed environmental regulations, including power plant rules that GOP attorneys general successfully sued to block from ever being implemented. That fallacy was laid bare over the past two years as coal failed to bounce back even though President Donald Trump axed nearly every major federal greenhouse gas regulation.

Earlier this year, Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to draft a plan to keep struggling coal and nuclear plants from closing. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees energy infrastructure, rejected the plan. But on Thursday, December 6, 2018, the U.S. Senate voted 50 to 49 to confirm Bernard McNamee, the architect of the failed Energy Department bailout plan, as a new FERC commissioner independent agency that oversees interstate power lines and pipelines. McNamee’s former roles include working for Texas Public Policy Foundation, a libertarian think tank funded by a gallery of polluters including Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Luminant.

The Sierra Club called his confirmation “reckless” and “a major threat to the Commission’s independence and integrity.”

According to Huff Post, Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement after the EPA announcement. “Instead of this backward-looking posturing, the government should speed the transition to a clean energy future. Trump’s proposal is an act of flailing, die-hard climate denial.”

In a coalition of 15 public health groups statement, including the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Medical Association, called the proposal “a major threat to the health of all Americans, particularly those most vulnerable.”

“Power plant pollution and climate change endangers the health of every American, but certain groups are more at risk – including children, older adults, pregnant women, low-income communities and communities of color,” the statement said. “This latest attempt from the administration to give industry a license to pollute is irresponsible and illogical from both a health and economic perspective.”

Water for Life

The Trump administration on Tuesday, December 11, 2018 unveiled its plan to replace an Obama-era rule that sought to safeguard drinking water for millions of Americans by extending federal protections to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.

Waters of the U.S., also known as the WOTUS rule or the Clean Water Rule, explicitly defined which waterways were covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act, expanding federal protections to all “navigable” waters and securing the drinking water of more than 117 million Americans.

The new proposal would put strict limits on which waterways qualify for federal protections as opposed to state protections, which are seen as easier for industrial players to challenge.

When EPA Acting Admin Andrew Wheeler made his announcement, he was joined onstage by federal lawmakers, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and deputies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Army, railing against press reports, which Wheeler said used incomplete data from the Obama administration. Wheeler called the Obama administration’s rule too strict, calling it “disingenuous” and “not adequately demonstrated,” and said the new proposal would “set high yet achievable standards that are rooted in reality.”

The rollbacks are the latest example of the Trump administration putting industry ahead of public health and environmental protection. And it comes after President Donald Trump repeated assurances that he wants “crystal-clean water.”

The Clean Water rollback directly benefits the president’s personal business, easing restrictions on golf-course operators. Under the proposed new rule, Trump’s owned or branded courses ― including two in Florida, three in New York, two in New Jersey and others in Virginia, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania would face fewer rules on pesticide and fertilizer use, according to a report from the consumer watchdog Public Citizen.

The deregulatory action is likely to face pushback from Democratically controlled states, environmental groups and Native Americans.

 

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