Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, think undoing all that has gone before them is something to celebrate. With no real accomplishments of their own, they revel in their power to destroy, rather than defend.
This is what Pruitt wants out of his bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature effort to cut carbon emissions from electric power generation by 32 percent by 2030.
“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt crowed at a press conference on Monday in Hazard, Kentucky, beaming. as if easing restrictions on dirty generators will magically bring back jobs to the state’s ravaged coalfields. It will not.
Allowing power companies to pump more carbon into the atmosphere won’t create jobs, nor will it revitalize the economy, even if Pruitt and Trump claim it as a big win.
But their bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan may have one silver lining: It gives all of us who care about climate justice a new opportunity to make our voices heard, and to fight for our planet’s future.
Who Bears The Burden?
Pruitt and Trump’s bid to undo the Clean Power Plan is an attack on the working-class communities and communities of color who have long borne the brunt of air pollution. These same communities are now being disproportionately hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change caused by carbon pollution.
As the devastating hurricanes, typhoons and wildfires of the last few months have shown, our planet and poor communities around the world – those least responsible for climate change –are already suffering the effects of climate catastrophe born from our addiction to fossil fuels.
Weakening our nation’s already anemic climate policies will delay the actions needed to curb climate change, giving states and industries an excuse to further pollute and destabilize our environment, with disastrous results locally and globally.
It is an attack on the very existence of U.S. climate policy, and any notion that we put people’s lives before the profit margins of big fossil fuel companies. We must fight back.
Why We Fight
While we rally to defend the Clean Power Plan’s goal to limit carbon emissions, we must remain clear-sighted and honest about what this policy was and is. The CPP broke new ground in regulating carbon emissions for the first time in the United States, but it ultimately did little more than add regulatory momentum to a market trend already partially underway.
For some time, many power companies have been dumping coal for cleaner, cheaper and more efficient fuel sources. This switch is now essentially baked into the energy marketplace, and there’s no going back anytime soon.
As a result, the Obama administration’s goal of a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions from electrical generation is likely to be met even if the Clean Power Plan is completely repealed.
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The Stakes Have Never Been Higher.
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The simple fact is that the coal industry Pruitt and Trump are claiming to save is economically, as well as ecologically, a dead end.
While it is tempting to take some comfort in the fact that repeal of the CPP won’t undermine its goal, we also know that this goal was never, and isn’t, enough to protect working class communities and communities of color. We can and must do more.
We cannot allow our communities to be left behind to suffer and die by climate policies driven solely by the side effects of market changes.
Our planet, and our nation, need bolder actions that reduce emissions, prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change already underway, and massively reinvest in the same working-class communities and communities of color that are most vulnerable to and worst hit by massive climate changes.
At the end of the day, our people and planet need so much more than the Clean Power Plan could ever provide. We must use the repeal process as an opportunity to name and organize for the type of climate and clean energy policy our communities actually need.
How We Fight Back
In order to issue any sort of replacement to the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt and Trump must first explain what alternative they propose. They are also required by law to solicit comments from the public on this alternative.
This means working people and “fence-line” communities, those who live dangerously close to power plants and other polluters, will have a chance to speak and be heard – if not by the White House, then by the nation and by our fellow voters.
We can fight at the state level to pass policies that will still meet or exceed the goals of the Clean Power Plan. For example earlier this year, as CPP was already on its death bed, Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act, which will double renewable energy generation in the state and invest $750 million in low-income solar, energy efficiency and job training.
What We Need
We need massive, ambitious climate action and a just transition away from polluting industry. The comment period for a replacement to the CPP offers an opportunity for working class people and people of color to put forward OUR visions for what U.S. climate policy needs to be and build power together to make those visions a reality.
The Clean Power Plan on its own was never going to get us to a world where the most vulnerable would be protected from climate impacts. Nor would it have ensured a transition away from fossil fuels that would be fast and deep enough to meet both the hard, scientific benchmarks we need to hit to avoid climate apocalypse, and the real economic needs of working people who still rely on fossil fuels.
But in opening the door to a long, drawn-out and ultimately toothless repeal, Scott Pruitt may have unwittingly given those who care about environmental justice a golden opportunity to name and push for the comprehensive, transformational change we need to not only survive the climate crisis, but to adapt and thrive in a changing world.