King Coal would kill Clean Power Plan

The flight from Boston to Los Angeles is about an hour longer than the flight back. There’s a pretty simple reason.

The prevailing wind is from west to east.  On the way to Boston, it can literally push the plane along.

That wind can push almost anything along in that direction.  For example, it can send eastward to Maine and elsewhere in the Northeast pollutants from coal-burning plants in the Midwest.  The west wind knows nothing of state boundaries.

As part of the worldwide effort on global warming, the Obama administration adopted the Clean Power Plan to reduce the harmful effects caused by coal-fired power plants.  No effective way has been found to clean up emissions from burning coal, so inevitably the CPP meant using alternatives.

The CPP never went into effect officially.  Coal producing states challenged it, and, in 2016, the Supreme Court suspended it.  It’s fair to wonder if the Court will ever decide the case.

But states began acting as if the CPP were going to be approved.  More than 35 states are expected to reach the Plan’s goals.  About a dozen likely won’t.  All but one of them voted for Donald Trump.  The New York Times reports they produce 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions.

Those in compliance have increased the use of natural gas, as it has become more plentiful and less costly, and have experienced the growth of wind power.   The CPP has laid out the path to the future, and some states seek to meet its goals because it is politically popular to fight climate change.

The split in CPP compliance fits well with President Trump’s view on reducing federal power.  He would not prevent states from pursuing the Plan’s goals, but each state should be able to make its own decision.  Fifty different clean air policies would be all right.

Maine and the Northeast are sometimes called “America’s tailpipe.”  But the problem is even worse.  A tailpipe carries pollutants out of the vehicle, while power plant carbon emissions are dropped off within the country on their way out to sea.

The Trump proposal would mean that almost every state’s decision on the CPP would be felt beyond its borders.  The climate may grow dangerously warmer, but perhaps not in all states equally.  Air quality will be degraded in states to the east of the producers.

In effect, the Trump approach would be to take country back to where it was before the Constitution.  Then, the United States was an association of what were, legally, 13 independent countries.  The Constitution was drafted by states, because some issues required a unified, American policy.

From the outset, the Constitution required that states look at themselves as part of a national economy.  Political decisions on issues crossing state borders would have to balance divergent interests to produce an all-American result.

President Trump wants to encourage a rebirth of what, a century ago, a writer called “King Coal.”  Burning more coal may help the economy of some states, but at the cost of harming the health of others.

The Trump plan itself acknowledges there will be more deaths and more lost school days than under the CPP.  Is slowing the reduction in coal use worth this price?

Environmental policy must take both sides into account.  Abandoning the goals of the CPP favors only one side.  Previously, as Congress focused environmental legislation on the national responsibility to promote improved air quality, it balanced interests.

The Clean Air Act of 1970, produced by Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, created federal government environmental authority.  In 1990, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine led the effort to adopt the Clean Air Act Amendments, serving notice on coal-burning power plants.

Half a century or even 28 years is ample advance notice that coal-burning plants should be phased out.  Efficiency alone dictates that old coal-fired plants should be closed.

The 1990 law also limited auto emissions, based on a negotiated compromise with car makers.  Now the Trump administration wants to back off rules that mandate increased gasoline mileage to reduce emissions.

Trump would even force California, which had a major smog problem, to fall into line with his national mileage policy, requiring it to slash its own state rules.  This move would run directly counter to a policy allowing each state to set its own rule for coal emissions.

The country needs a balanced policy to improve both national health and the national economy. Turning the clock back to favor only one side won’t serve the purpose.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.