Trump’s Attack on Clean Power Threatens Livable Climate, Public Health, and Hundreds of Thousands of Energy Jobs

Decades of progress on cleaning up our dirty air took a significant hit on Tuesday, along with hopes for a livable future climate, when President Trump issued his Energy Independence Executive Order. Most seriously, the order attacks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, which requires a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030 (compared to 2005 emission rates.)  — Dr Jeff Masters

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Yesterday, Donald Trump, much like that famous Luddite Don Quixote, decided to go to war with clean energy. But unlike Don Quixote, Trump did so with full knowledge that he was also fighting to rob us of our best hopes of putting millions of Americans to work for clean air and a livable climate.

(Where would you want to live? Downwind of a toxin spewing coal plant, or near solar panels and wind turbines? Poor coal miners basically a set piece in Trump’s effort to save coal profits at the cost of the environment. Coal company CEOs have already signaled that the coal jobs aren’t coming back due to automation.)

With executive order #18 from his administration, he began to lay the groundwork to start to unravel Obama’s Clean Power Plan — which made a decent first shot at removing the worst U.S. polluters, prevented about 4,500 premature deaths each year (which is like preventing a pollution 9/11 every six months), promoted a jobs-growing renewable energy revolution, and put the U.S. on track to become a global leader in the fight to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Trump’s latest move, yet one more promotion of policies harmful to the American people, drew fierce opposition. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called Trump’s actions “a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change and our clean energy future.” The states of California and New York, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population and more than 20 percent of the U.S. economy, have vowed to oppose Trump’s order even as they provide more funds for clean energy development. Ten senators from various states immediately asked Trump to rescind the order on account that it would do substantial harm to their constituent economies (which are rapidly moving to adopt clean energy). And the National Resources Defense Council and others have vowed to oppose Trump’s measure every step of the way in court.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said of Trump’s move:

“Today Donald Trump is shirking our nation’s responsibilities, disregarding clear science and undoing the significant progress that we’ve made to ensure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come with the stroke of his pen. Despite all the rhetoric, this order clearly proves that this administration is not serious about protecting jobs or the environment.”

And though Trump claimed that his attack on The Clean Power Plan was meant to help save jobs, the numbers just don’t add up.

(If you want to grow jobs in the U.S., replacing dirty energy with clean energy is a good way to do it. But Trump is doing just the opposite. Source: Political Economy Research Institute.)

As Trump favors coal over renewable energy, and since every dollar spent on renewable energy creates twice the number of jobs for every dollar spent on fossil fuels, his action will almost certainly result in job losses across the energy sector. In West Virginia, for example, many coal jobs have already been replaced by automation and even coal executives now say those jobs aren’t coming back.

Meanwhile, the Clean Power Plan would have provided West Virginia with the opportunity to diversify its economy, to shift away from dependence on dwindling coal jobs, and to add renewable energy jobs if it were to pursue building wind turbines or solar farms, for example. Replacing coal jobs with renewable energy jobs would add about 70,000 jobs to the U.S. economy as a whole. And switching fossil fuel generation to renewable energy provides a prospect of almost doubling the 2.2 million jobs in today’s energy sector. Attack clean power, as Trump has, and we risk losing that jobs growth.

(The cost of utility scale renewable energy is now dramatically lower than utility scale fossil fuels. Considering both cost and jobs growth potential, it’s nonsensical to attack renewable energy — as Trump just did. Image source: Solar and Wind Crush Coal and Natural Gas on Price.)

Attempting to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, therefore, threatens renewable energy jobs across America even as it promotes the continuation of dirty coal burning which is so harmful to both the health of American citizens and to the stability of our climate. If Trump were truly serious about helping West Virginia coal miners he would, as the Chinese have for their own ailing coal workers, provide substantial funds for training and assistance to miners who have lost their jobs. Trump has pushed no such bill.

Ultimately, the only people with the potential to substantially benefit from Trump’s attacks on the Clean Power Plan are the owners of coal mines and coal-burning power plants. But this action is little more than an anti-competitive, anti-capitalist policy of wealthcare for the wealthy industry investors and execs on the losing side of the energy transition. Trump’s action would, in effect, extend the life of these dirty plants and mines — securing profits for a few wealthy individuals for a few more years to come. But even this paltry ‘benefit’ would tend to fade as the superior economics of renewable energy out-compete coal as time moves forward. Already, solar is less expensive than existing coal-fired power plants. And wind energy has long been a competitive source on the basis of price.

paris-emissions-chart-columbia (1)

(The Trump Administration shows every intent of trying to put the U.S. back on a business as usual carbon emissions path. The Clean Power Plan would dramatically reduce U.S. emissions thereby also reducing catastrophic climate outcomes. Image source: Weather Underground and The Earth Institute.)

But the worst impact of the Clean Power Plan’s removal will probably be the locking in of an ever-worsening climate catastrophe for U.S. citizens and the people of the world. Already sea level rise is threatening key cities like Miami even as worsening droughts, wildfires, floods and storms are causing substantial harm from the Washington D.C. area through the heartland and on to the U.S. West Coast. But the climate change related impacts that we see now are minor and easy in comparison to the harm that is coming in the future if we fail to rapidly reduce carbon emissions now. And Trump’s policy is a set-back to those necessary carbon reductions that we can ill-afford.

So the obvious choice is clear. The Clean Power Plan is a big benefit to the U.S. economy and to the health and well-being of the people who live in this great nation. And fighting to remove it basically boils down to a madman tilting at the very windmills that will help to save us from a terrible future.

(UPDATED)

Credits:

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Naturalfx

Hat tip to Timothy Thalen

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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