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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Energy Rule Costly, Deadly

Administration aims to prop up coal industry at expense of American lives

The Columbian
Published: August 23, 2018, 6:03am

Despite platitudes about the plan from President Donald Trump, there appears to be little that is affordable in the administration’s new Affordable Clean Energy rule. The proposal would be costly to the lives and well-being of Americans and would provide scant economic benefits.

The headline-grabber from the report that was issued Tuesday: The new plan would result in between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030. That would be accompanied by a rise in cases of asthma, bronchitis, and heart and lung disease because of an increase in coal burning. The resulting health care costs would more than offset any benefits from the plan. In other words, the administration is willing to trade the health of Americans for propping up a dying coal industry — an exchange that doesn’t pencil out.

It must be noted that the expected impact of the rule does not come from an environmental group that critics can attempt to write off as partisan. It comes from estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is callously desperate to make the coal industry great again. “Implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health,” reads the report.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule is designed to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. That plan was introduced in 2015 and set national targets for cutting CO2 emissions while nudging utilities toward cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar. The Clean Power Plan has been challenged in court, with critics saying the federal government overstepped its authority, and in 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on the rule to allow the lawsuits to proceed.

In Washington state, voters in 2006 approved Initiative 937, requiring utilities to gradually increase the use of renewable sources for energy. The TransAlta power plant in Centralia is the state’s only coal-fired facility, and it is expected to be phased out by 2025. Meanwhile, voters this fall will consider Initiative 1631, which is designed to further reduce carbon emissions.

While Washington has taken an environmentally responsible — and economically viable — approach to energy, the Trump administration is clinging to an outdated industry that is harmful to all Americans. “The era of top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates is over,” said Andrew Wheeler, interim administrator of the EPA, as he announced that states will have more leeway to devise their own emissions guidelines.

The problem, obviously, is that emissions do not stop at the state line. What West Virginia puts into its air eventually wafts toward Washington. There also is a dichotomy in the administration’s insistence upon state control while at the same time it opposes the rights of states to set their own fuel-mileage standards for automobiles or their own laws regarding recreational marijuana.

With natural gas and renewable sources of power becoming more efficient and less costly, the coal industry is being left in the dust. Coal-fired plants across the country have been closing at the rate of one every 16 days. Meanwhile, the solar energy industry employs more than three times as many people as the coal industry. All of which leaves little justification for the president’s specious insistence that coal is the energy of the future.

Those concerns, however, are trumped by the health problems that would accompany an increase in the use of coal. When the administration starts gambling with the health of Americans, it is a losing bet.