ACE, built by Coal Lobby, bad for us
On June 19, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented a new emissions regulation plan called the “Affordable Clean Energy rule” (ACE). Acting EPA head and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler claims that the plan will achieve significant carbon emission reductions. However, the plan drastically reduces regulation of coal plants and will likely cause emissions to increase, creating serious public health risks and environmental problems.
Instead of setting nationwide standards for coal plants, the ACE allows each individual state to regulate the plants located within state borders. The federal government will effectively be removed from coal regulation, and states will be able to place little or no restriction on coal plants. Although the stated intention of the plan is to reduce emissions, it sets no national limits, reduction goals, or reduction incentives of any kind, and does nothing to prevent coal plants from releasing harmful waste into the atmosphere. A study performed by Harvard and Syracuse Universities predicts that emissions will increase in 19 states under the ACE.
This federal abdication of coal regulation comes as evidence of the severity of climate change mounts and the world’s scientific community warns that that rapid emission reductions must be undertaken to avoid the most serious climate change effects. The United States is responsible for about 15% of global emissions, second only to China (World Resource Institute). Between 2005 and 2017, the U.S. reduced energy related emissions. But in 2018, emissions began rising again and are on pace to do so again in 2019.
The ACE also carries immediate health risks for Americans. An analysis by the Natural Resource Defense Council estimated that the new plan could cause as many as 5,200 premature deaths annually by 2030. Even the Trump administration’s own initial analysis predicted 1,400 annual premature deaths and a host of other health problems like heart and lung disease as a direct result of the rule (New York Times).
In the lead up to the announcement of the ACE, the EPA changed its modeling method for predicting air quality related health risks. The new method ignores many air quality factors and predicts significantly fewer premature deaths and health consequences as a result of air pollution. Scientists warn that this calculation is inaccurate and underestimates the true health risks of the ACE.
As an economic powerhouse and a global leader, the U.S. should be leading the effort to act against climate change by transitioning to sustainable energy sources. Coal is not the future of energy production for America. U.S. coal consumption has decline by more than 30% in the past decade (eia.gov), largely because alternative sources like natural gas, wind, and solar are cheaper, safer, and more efficient
Unfortunately, the current administration has chosen to prop up the declining coal industry to fulfill impractical campaign promises and appease corporate interests. With the implementing of the “Affordable Clean Energy rule,” the Trump appointed EPA director prioritizes the short-term interests of the coal industry over the global environment, economic interests of the United States, and the health of the American public.
Nick Wilson is a junior at Boston College and is studying environemntal sciences.