This post is part of WRI’s blog series, The Trump Administration. The series analyzes policies and actions by the administration and their implications for climate change, energy, economics and more.
Why put the brakes on a good thing?
Over the last decade, America’s economy has grown rapidly, while its emissions have dropped. The shift is good for people’s health, business and national security.
Yet, the Trump administration is now expected to release an executive order that would direct the EPA to roll back key protections provided under the Clean Power Plan, one of the cornerstones of the country’s climate strategy. This move flies in the face of common sense. It will hurt America’s security and economy. It also won’t bring back lost jobs in the coal industry, and instead, pours cold water on the country’s shift to renewable energy.
The president has not indicated that he has a replacement for the Clean Power Plan. Instead, he will just leave the country’s climate strategy twisting in the wind. Following are reasons why this approach is a losing proposition for America:
Rolling Back the Clean Power Plan Will Jeopardize Climate Security and Harm People’s Health
The Clean Power Plan is designed to reduce emissions from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) most recent Annual Energy Outlook, this will reduce emissions of climate pollution by 350 million metric tons per year in 2030, the equivalent of taking 74 million cars off the road. Analysis by Synapse shows that the program can deliver these reductions while saving customers an average of $17 per month nationwide, so long as states leverage the opportunity the rule provides to tailor their compliance programs.
Rolling back the Clean Power Plan will also take a toll on human health as Americans suffer from dirtier air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that the rule would provide health benefits of $14-$34 billion per year by 2030, outweighing costs by a factor of 4 to 1.
However, it is important to go beyond those top-level statistics to understand what really is at stake here. According to analysis EPA released with the rule, each year the Clean Power Plan would avoid:
- Up to 3,600 premature deaths;
- 90,000 asthma attacks in children;
- Up to 1,700 heart attacks;
- 1,700 hospital admissions; and
- 300,000 missed school and work days.
Rolling Back the Clean Power Plan Will Not Bring Back the Coal Industry
So, what is the administration hoping to gain at the expense of those lost lives and sick children? President Trump has suggested that his regulatory rollback will somehow save the coal industry, but this statement is divorced from the reality facing America’s coal communities. It is undeniably true that coal employment has fallen considerably in recent decades, and that the communities left behind deserve our attention and need economic development. However, solving these challenges requires a real, honest discourse grounded in facts.
That discourse must begin with the acknowledgment that the main drivers of change in the coal industry have been increased productivity and low natural gas prices. Consider that even with recent production declines, the nation produces nearly 50 percent more coal than we did in 1940, but employs one-eighth the number of miners. The underlying shift to less labor-intensive methods of mining coal means that the industry will never see employment levels comparable to where they were decades ago.
As the Analysis Group shows, low natural gas prices have driven recent production declines. Pressure from natural gas will likely continue; EIA reports that the electricity industry is planning to build 37 gigawatts (GW) of new natural gas capacity in the coming years, the equivalent to about 70 mid-sized power plants. Coal production is not expected to substantially increase above current levels even if the Clean Power Plan is rolled back.
It could also stifle the country’s clean energy revolution and diminish job growth in this burgeoning market. Already, about 2.7 million Americans work in wind, solar and energy efficiency, while only 160,000 work in coal. Solar created one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs in 2016, while wind turbine technicians are expected to be the fastest-growing occupation over the next 10 years. These industries create jobs for hard-working Americans across the country, and set the stage for exporting clean energy products abroad.
Rolling Back the Clean Power Plan Would Create Investment Uncertainty
Power companies are expected to invest more than a trillion dollars in new electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure in the coming years as they modernize aging generating facilities and grid systems. These investments will have a lifetime measured in decades. Rolling back regulations like the Clean Power Plan would reduce the long-term certainty for power companies, which is bad for shareholders and consumers alike.
The science is clear, and the threat climate change poses to the American way of life becomes more apparent with each passing day through increased droughts, flooding and extreme weather. The power sector will need to decarbonize to protect vulnerable communities. Therefore, power companies should continue making smart investments in low-carbon resources regardless of what happens with the Clean Power Plan.
Many companies already realize that this strategy is good for business and good for ratepayers. This is why Xcel is moving forward with their steel-for-fuel strategy to replace fossil fuel plants with wind turbines while delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel savings for customers. It is also why Berkshire Hathaway's utilities division has proposed doubling its investment in renewable energy. Even the historically coal-heavy American Electric Power plans to add 8 GW of wind and solar by 2034, saying that investing in zero-emitting and lower-carbon resources “makes economic sense for our customers.”
The Clean Power Plan clearly offers multiple benefits to the U.S economy and its people. The plan was developed through lengthy and highly deliberative consultation. It offers reasonable guidance and important signals to power suppliers that would help provide cleaner air and more clean energy. Rolling it back won’t move the country forward—it will sadly just leave the country with a fuzzier roadmap for the future.