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Beacon Journal/ editorial board: Help for coal? It comes at a price for public health and the planet

Beacon Journal/ editorial board: Help for coal? It comes at a price for public health and the planet
President Trump promised to revive the fortunes of coal country. “Trump digs coal,” read the signs at his rally last week in Charleston, W.Va., where he touted plans to keep his pledge. He proposes to relax pollution standards for coal-fired power plants, the regulatory relief improving their prospects in an era of cheap natural gas and more competitive wind and solar.

That means seeking to roll back the Clean Power Plan put forward by Barack Obama and designed to encourage the eventual closing of coal-fired power plants. The Obama plan has yet to take effect, delayed, as it is, in the courts.

The Trump plan, too, will likely face legal challenges, plus the substantial hurdle of showing that it complies with the underlying law, the federal Clean Air Act. How would the president aid coal, exactly? He wants to alter the concept of “new source review.”

The Clean Air Act involved the grandfathering of many older coal-fired plants. Plant owners were not required to install the best available pollution control technology until a plant underwent major renovations. Today, nearly one-third of coal plants do not have “scrubbers,’ the sophisticated and expensive equipment for removing sulfur-dioxide emissions. One-fifth lack the equipment to limit emissions of nitrogen oxide.

The proposed Trump rule would allow major upgrades to plants — without requiring the installation of the best available pollution control technology.

That would put the plants in a stronger operating position. They would burn more efficiently. The proposal wouldn’t get close to the emissions reductions under the Clean Power Plan, in part, because the plants would operate longer. The federal Environmental Protection Agency forecasts the Trump plan curbing carbon dioxide emissions 12 million to 24 million metric tons by 2030.

The Obama plan would bring an estimated reduction of 67 million metric tons in carbon-dioxide emissions, the primary culprit in fueling climate change.

Problematic, too, would be the continued emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, not to mention tiny airborne particulates, all of it increasing the risk of heart and lung disease. An EPA analysis calculates the Trump rule would result in 470 to 1,400 additional premature deaths annually by 2030, not to mention 48,000 new cases of “exacerbated asthma.”

Recall that the Clean Air Act puts highest priority on protecting public health. So, the legal obstacle is considerable for the Trump plan, just as states receive flexibility in implementation but not in whether to enforce the law.

Would the president’s proposal really help the coal industry? For a time. Then? The challenge for the industry isn’t regulation. Coal has been falling short in the marketplace. That isn’t likely to change with the imperatives of public health and a warming planet.


Source: Akron Beacon-Journal

BY:  Editorial Published: August 27, 2018 – 9:26 PM



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