Trump Attacks Climate Plan, But We Won’t Go Backwards

The Peoples Climate March in NYC in 2014.
The Peoples Climate March in NYC in 2014.

In a widely expected (but still infuriating) move signaling once again that President Trump values polluter profits and special interests over public health, today Trump signed an executive order that attempts to begin rolling back the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP, which sets carbon pollution standards for existing coal power plants, is one of our nation’s most important safeguards for tackling the climate crisis and protecting public health. Let’s make one thing clear - like Trump’s attempts at a Muslim ban and taking away health care that came before, this too will fail, and the public will stand up to fight it every step of the way.

Trump took other actions that I’ll talk about in my next post, including dismantling the Clean Power Plan, roll back Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards, rescind the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidance that directs agencies to account for the climate crisis, and end efforts to reform the broken federal coal leasing program, but for now, let’s focus on the CPP and where we go from here.

The CPP protects our families and communities by curbing dangerous carbon pollution, in turn reducing other dangerous pollutants like mercury, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. In today’s move, Trump instructed EPA to begin the process of repealing the CPP by instructing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to review and rewrite the standard.

The Executive Order further directs the EPA to not defend the Clean Power Plan, which is in the midst of a legal challenge brought by polluters and fossil fuel heavy states. However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the CPP. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and that the EPA had an obligation to regulate those emissions if it concluded that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. On the basis of a robust scientific record, in 2009 the agency concluded that six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of climate change, and the D.C. Circuit upheld this finding. In 2011, the Supreme Court also held that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The CPP thus rests on a solid legal foundation, and Trump is on very shaky ground in instructing the EPA to change its position in court. The Sierra Club and our allies will continue to defend it. In addition, undoing the CPP will require a rulemaking, which will set in motion a long process with lots of opportunities for the public to make our voice heard. The Sierra Club and many partner organizations will fight Trump’s action in the courts and in the streets.

Here’s another reason not to lose hope. We’re already on track to meet the climate targets of the Clean Power Plan, and we can keep making progress. This month, Sierra Club released an analysis that shows another pathway to meet the climate target we set at the Paris Climate Change conference in 2015. By continuing our grassroots work to retire coal plants and replace them with clean, renewable energy, we can reach upwards of 60 percent of the reductions needed to meet the Paris commitment. This EO won’t stop our movement or the trend - coal plants will continue to be retired and replaced by clean energy.

Unfortunately, Trump would rather line the pockets of his billionaire corporate polluter friends than help clean our air and reduce the threat of climate disruption. As usual, it seems as if Trump is living in another reality - not the one here that shows that the clean energy economy is growing rapidly in both red and blue states. The wind and solar industries are creating jobs as breakneck speed! For example, the solar sector totals over a quarter million jobs and is adding workers at a rate nearly 17 times faster than the overall economy. The Sierra Club is doubling down on its commitment to make sure that clean energy jobs provide family sustaining union careers, and to protect the livelihoods of workers and communities that have depended on fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, CPP savings for Americans involves lives and serious cash: The EPA has estimated that, by 2030, the CPP would prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,600 premature deaths annually, providing between $55 billion to $93 billion of benefits per year. These climate and health benefits far outweigh the estimated annual costs of the plan, which are only $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030.

What’s more, elements of the CPP aimed to address environmental and economic justice by creating incentives to create good union jobs in clean energy and to protect low income communities, communities of color, and displaced fossil fuel workers. Without the CPP, these goals are much less likely to be incorporated into state government and utility planning.

Trump can’t just erase the Clean Power Plan with the stroke of a pen, but instead has to start a long process to revise it that will require public engagement. The good news is that the Clean Power Plan is on a strong legal footing and that this is just the first stage in an attempt to try and roll it back. We’ll fight Trump in the courts, in the streets, and at the state and local level across the nation, making it clear that Americans want clean energy and climate progress.