By James D. Flynn, Esq.
Jamie received his J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law and is pursuing an LL.M. in environmental and energy law at New York University School of Law. He currently serves as a legal intern at Waterkeeper Alliance. Photo courtesy of NASA.
On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed the deceptively-titled Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, which called for a review of the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, commonly known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). As anticipated, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate change-denying, anti-science Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is proposing to dismantle the CPP, based largely on a shady economic analysis that misrepresents the anticipated benefits and costs of the rule. The proposal is a blatantly illegal attempt to elevate corporate polluters’ interests over the health of both the public and the environment.
The U.S. is the single largest contributor of climate change-driving carbon pollution in history, and fossil-fueled power plants represent the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. The CPP, announced by President Obama in August 2015, is the first-ever federal regulation to place limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. The legal foundation of the CPP is the Clean Air Act of 1970, the nation’s primary air pollution law, which the Supreme Court has held authorizes EPA to regulate carbon pollution. Under this authority, the CPP established achievable standards that give states flexibility to design their own cost-effective pathways toward reducing carbon pollution from power generation.
The environmental impacts associated with dismantling federal regulation of carbon pollution cannot be overstated. The consequences of climate change are ubiquitous, but its impacts on resources central to Waterkeeper Alliance’s mission are expected to be particularly severe.
Fisheries will be affected by changes in water temperature that make waters more hospitable to invasive species and shift the ranges or lifecycle timing of fish species. Coastal areas already stressed by human activity, pollution, invasive species, and the increasing frequency and severity of storms are at serious risk. Sea level rise will erode and inundate coastal ecosystems and eliminate wetlands, and warmer and more acidic oceans will disrupt coastal and marine ecosystems. Climate change can alter where species live, how they interact, and the timing of biological events, which, if left unabated, has the potential fundamentally transform current ecosystems and food webs and overwhelm the capacity of ecosystems to mitigate extreme events and disturbances, such as wildfires, floods, and drought. Projected warming could drastically increase the rate of species extinctions, especially in sensitive regions. Climate change will also severely affect water resources in numerous ways by altering the water cycle, water demand, water availability, and water quality, all of which will reverberate through many other sectors. Many of these effects are observable today and will become much worse unless we act now to curb carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants. And yet, despite these consequences, the administration plans repeal the CPP in its entirety without even proposing a new regulation to replace it.
Enforceable limits on carbon emissions would hasten the transition away from dirtier coal-fired power plants, and encourage investment in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. If the CPP is dismantled, many “dinosaur” coal-fired power plants will be able to stay online much longer. The environmental impacts of keeping coal-fired plants running go beyond climate change—coal-fired power plants are also the largest source of toxic water pollution in the nation.
Before Trump and Pruitt can repeal the CPP, EPA is required to solicit public comments. You can submit your own public comment here. We have provided a template below that you can use, but please consider personalizing your message and explaining why leaving the CPP intact is important to you. The comment period will close on January 16, 2018. It is crucial that as many people as possible stand up and tell Trump and Pruitt—loudly, clearly, and unequivocally—that Americans oppose their efforts to dismantle the CPP.
Dear Administrator Pruitt,
I am writing to voice my strong opposition to EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
As you know, EPA is required by law to protect human health and the environment, and specifically to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed repeal illegally elevates corporate polluters’ short-term interests over the long-term health and safety of all Americans and the environment.
The Clean Power Plan is one of the most effective tools we have to protect human health and natural ecosystems. Repealing the Clean Power Plan would allow dirty, inefficient, and economically uncompetitive fossil-fueled power plants to continue to emit as much carbon pollution into the environment as they wish. But people, communities and ecosystems across the country and around the world will suffer the consequences. Corporate polluters have externalized the costs of carbon pollution and forced them upon the public for decades. The time for that practice to end has long since passed.
The CPP puts the U.S. on track by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by at least 32 percent below 2005 levels. That’s some 870 million tons of carbon—the equivalent of the annual emissions generated from 166 million cars, or 70 percent of the nation’s passenger vehicles. The CPP would also prevent some 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 1,700 heart attacks, 1,700 hospital admissions, and 300,000 missed school and work days. All told, the CPP is estimated to create climate and public health benefits worth $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030, which far outweigh its projected $8.4 billion in costs per year in 2030. The CPP took years to develop and was informed by an unprecedented 4.3 million public comments from Americans who overwhelmingly support setting limits on carbon emissions from the power sector.
Repealing the Clean Power Plan will accomplish precisely the opposite of the EPA’s mission. I urge you to consider these concerns as you proceed and to act accordingly.