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Not surprisingly, Trump's new Affordable Clean Energy plan is anything but

Not surprisingly, Trump's new Affordable Clean Energy plan is anything but
A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. (J. David Ake / Associated Press)

President Trump needs a new slogan for those red hats the White House sells, one that more closely reflects the true impact of his policies. Here’s a suggestion: MASA, for Make Air Sooty Again.

That’s what will happen if the president gets his way and manages to increase the amount of coal that U.S. power plants burn to make electricity. The administration’s announcement Tuesday that it intends to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with a new Affordable Clean Energy rule — quite the Orwellian appellation, given that coal is the dirtiest of energy sources — is another step down the road to air more laden with carbon, particulates and smog-breeding pollutants after decades of progress. The only silver lining in this particularly sooty cloud is that burning coal also is among the more expensive ways of generating power, and market forces independently are leading power companies to phase out existing coal-fired plants or drop plans for new ones in favor of sources powered by natural gas or renewables such as wind and solar.

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Obama’s Clean Power Plan sought to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32% below 2005 levels by the year 2030, achieved by setting limits for each state but giving them wide latitude in figuring out how to hit the targets. The rule was also projected to yield life-saving reductions in other forms of pollution from power plants. Experts say that carbon emissions must be reduced even more sharply than Obama’s goal if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, but the Clean Power Plan moved us in the right direction. Notably, power generation is the nation’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation.

Even the EPA acknowledges that the plan is likely to cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths a year from pollution-related ailments.


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Unfortunately, the Clean Power Plan was stalled in the courts — courtesy of a lawsuit brought by 27 Republican-led states — and never went into effect. Still, experts say the country is on target to meet many of the emissions goals anyway, though they warn that if Trump gets his way, the reductions are likely to slow.

The new plan sets guidelines for states to follow in getting power plants to use existing technology to operate more efficiently and measuring success based on improvements in the heat rate, or amount of power generated by burning fuel. The plan also allows states to relax pollution controls that would extend the lives of existing coal-fired plants. States would have three years to devise standards individualized to local utilities and subject to Environmental Protection Agency approval.

Environmental advocates say that’s an abdication of federal responsibility under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions. And even the EPA acknowledges that the plan is likely to cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths a year from pollution-related ailments.

The plan falls in line with the administration’s decision to freeze fuel economy standards for cars, light trucks and SUVs, as well as Trump’s retrograde promises to revive the coal and nuclear power industries. The president’s efforts on the latter front include a so-far fruitless proposal to require utilities to buy costlier power from coal and nuclear plants at consumers’ expense. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wisely rejected that request by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, but the administration is continuing to push the issue by trying to frame increased use of coal and nuclear power as necessary to maintain a stable power grid as a matter of national security.

That’s hogwash, and the energy regulators said as much when they expressed doubt that the national security designation was legally defensible. In fact, the commission rejected the proposal unanimously, and four of the five members are Trump appointees. So this idea is too cockamamie for even some of his own people.

Beyond the administration’s attempts to put a thumb on the scale of the energy market in favor of big polluters — hypocritical at best given Republicans’ general embrace of free market forces — the president’s policies pose a dire threat to the health of Americans and weaken efforts to try to combat climate change and rid the air of particles damaging to human health. They must be opposed both in the courts and at the ballot box.

1:15 p.m.: This editorial was updated with additional details about the Trump administration’s efforts to promote the use of coal.

This editorial was originally published at 10:05 a.m.

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