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The Trump Administration Admits It's OK Letting People Die from Dirty Air

Compared to an Obama-era rule, the EPA's new proposed regulation would cause as many as 1,400 deaths a year by 2030.
Photo of Trump by Chip Somodevilla/Getty; photo of a coal plant by Mark Wilson/Getty

On Tuesday, Donald Trump's EPA rolled out a new proposal for governing power plants called the Affordable Clean Energy rule that would continue the administration's mutual love affair with the coal industry. It would also result in dirtier air, more illness, and ultimately more deaths than the Obama administration's old regulatory plan.

That's not naked partisanship talking—the Trump administration's analysis of its own proposed rule admits as much, as the New York Times and others have noted. Compared to Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), that analysis says, "implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health." Here's how the Times describes the health outcomes that would likely occur should the Affordable Clean Energy rule be implemented:


The Trump E.P.A. predicts its plan will see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates known as PM 2.5, which are dangerous because of their link to heart and lung disease as well as their ability to trigger chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis.

The comparisons between the Trump and Obama plans are complicated because the CPP never actually went into effect. Announced in 2015, the CPP was intended to put strict limits on how much carbon power plants could emit. But the energy industry and a group of mostly Republican state attorneys general sued to block it, and the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the CPP should be put on hold until the legal battle was resolved. That battle became moot after Trump won the election and subsequently announced he was phasing out the CPP.

So thanks to a combination of legal wrangling and electoral politics, the right succeeded in rolling back one of Obama's signature moves on climate change. Trump's replacement rule is much more lenient and allows states more leeway in regulating power plants. As a result, the industry will save an estimated $400 million, according to the EPA. The rule will also allow coal plants to remain in operation longer if they agree to improve their efficiency, whereas under the CPP, many coal plants would have likely been forced to close because they pollute too much.

Trump's latest move is obviously an attempt to end what he has called a "war on coal." He has repeatedly promised to bring back coal jobs, a tall order given that coal is not just among the dirtiest sources of energy, but expensive compared to natural gas and renewable energy. The coal industry's decline has devastated many communities, but it's also a very small part of the economy that employs only around 50,000 miners. And Trump isn't likely going to be able to reverse that decline despite all his giveaways to the industry. But this new rule will certainly succeed at one thing: making America sicker.

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