Fight Goes Local After Trump's EPA Ditched Obama's Clean Power Plan
Just like when Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, officials at the community level must step up to address America's energy crisis.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
When Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan last week, he declared that "the war on coal is over." This statement is misleading for several reasons, but one is that in terms of the direction of the global economy coal itself was already over. Renewable sources aren't just a partisan choice by those who want the planet to live; they're what's needed to keep our economy competitive and to create the greatest number of jobs. The clean energy sector already employs upwards of three million people; coal employs fewer than 50,000, and even at its peak the industry never employed more than around 150,000.
The Clean Power Plan, one of the landmark pieces of Obama-era legislation prioritizing the fight against climate change, was designed to cut America's carbon footprint by one-third by 2030. It would do this by capping the greenhouse gas output from utilities in the power sector, which include coal-fired power plants. It would mean phasing out those plants for wind and solar.
But the issue isn't as cut and dry as advocates at extreme ends of the political spectrum often paint it out to be. While many applauded the Clean Power Plan as a common sense approach to the country's energy crisis, pro-coal activists have been busy drumming up support and using the real economic hardship felt by working class people in coal country throughout the Obama years to oppose it. It's no small coincidence that top coal producing states like Kentucky and West Virginia are also some of the poorest states by income.
The onus of curbing our country's emissions falls on officials at the community level.
GOP officials like Pruitt and the Department of Energy head Rick Perry appear more interested in appealing to pro-coal advocacy groups than hard science or economic fact. They're accustomed to having their campaigns funded by the coal and oil industries and worried they will receive no such donations from the sun, have opposed the Clean Power Plan on the grounds that it overstepped its bounds and that's it's not reasonable to ask so much. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled the EPA may not repeal the Clean Power Plan without offering a replacement, the EPA has said it will repeal and later ask the public for suggestions about a replacement.
What this means is that the onus of curbing our country's emissions falls on officials at the community level. The Trump administration's ability to wipe out regulations at the federal level does not prevent states from imposing those regulations on themselves. Just as we saw a series of states and cities declaring they'd honor the Paris accord even if Trump withdrew the United States as a whole, we can expect promises to cut back on usage of coal-fired power plants.
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Fourteen states and Puerto Rico had already formed the United States Climate Alliance, banding together to stick to Paris accord regulations. Governors from eight of those states have already released statements pledging to regulate their carbon emissions regardless of actions by the EPA.
But since the regulations are being handled by communities individually, a lot of the actionable work will have to come from the mayors.
To start, we'll be looking to the 150 U.S. mayors who have joined the Sierra Club's Mayors for 100% Clean Energy movement, a grassroots campaign to end dependence on coal and oil. California leads the campaign, as it tends to do, with 29 participating mayors -- but the runner up, with 26 mayors, is Florida.
Miami hosted the first conference of participating mayors over the summer. The state's congressional representatives remain firmly entrenched in their climate denial, but farther down the ballot a lot of officials are coming around. Maybe it's because they're already seeing how climate change is laying waste to their state's housing market, but this is one of those times when motive isn't the most important thing as long as we're still getting results. The Sierra Club estimated that if all the participating cities did manage to transition to 100 percent clean energy, we as a nation would cut our carbon emissions by one-third even without the federal government.
Fourteen states and Puerto Rico had already formed the United States Climate Alliance, banding together to stick to Paris accord regulations.
"Make no mistake, the fight against this dangerous decision is only just beginning. We will mobilize to make our voices heard when the EPA conducts its legally-required comment period and we will challenge any dirty strategy that violates the Clean Air Act in court," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. "Trump can't reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen, and we'll fight him and Scott Pruitt in the courts, in the streets, and at the state and local level across America to protect the health of every community."