News and information from our partners

Crosstalk: Should Trump pare back EPA?

Last week, the Trump administration took steps to axe one of former President Barack Obama’s most harmful environmental policies, one of many moves to stop job-killing regulations.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the process had begun to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which was essentially a massive power grab by the federal government over the energy industry, particularly coal.

When Obama ran for office in 2008, he vowed to implement a cap-and-trade system that would bankrupt anyone who tried to build a coal power plant, a move to shut down the industry. His plan failed to gain traction in Congress, so Obama made an end run around the legislative body given authority by the U.S. Constitution to enact policy.

In 2015, Obama’s EPA unveiled new regulations that would accomplish by executive fiat what he couldn’t get done legislatively.

Obama touted the CPP as a way to combat greenhouse gas emissions, which he identified as the greatest threat of our time. The plan intended to regulate carbon dioxide, a colorless, odorless, nontoxic gas, because of its alleged contribution to global warming.

Every state was directed to develop detailed plans to cut carbon pollution by one-third from 2005 levels by 2030.

However, Obama ran into a legal snag. It seems that the constitution did not give the White House, as the executive body, the power to set policy, only to administer laws approved by the House and Senate.

Under Obama, the EPA became a lawless organ of federal power.

Because the CPP grossly exceeded the statutory authority of the EPA, threatening states with loss of federal road funds for non-compliance, 27 states petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to pause implementation of the regulation.

The judges granted that stay in 2016.

The illegally produced CPP was fraught with other problems — starting with more expensive energy bills for families and businesses.

The estimated cost of the plan, including job losses, was between $41 billion and $73 billion a year. In addition, the CPP was not necessary for the purposes stated by Obama.

The U.S. already has laws on the books to protect the health of Americans from damaging emissions.

And the climate impact of the CPP would have been meaningless.

Paul Knappenberger, a climatologist, said: “Even if we implement the CPP to perfection, the amount of climate change averted over the course of this century amounts to about 0.02 C. This is so small as to be scientifically undetectable and environmentally insignificant.”

Even many liberal experts didn’t support enactment of the CPP because of its devastating potential.

Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, who served in Obama’s Justice Department, testified before Congress that the “EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: Usurping the prerogatives of the states, Congress and the federal courts – all at once. Burning the Constitution should not become part of our national energy policy.”

Trump’s EPA rightly concluded that the CPP was unconstitutional, that the agency needed to be reined in so that it could no longer impede economic growth.

The president has stated his intent to allow more of the free market to dictate the outcome of energy use and emissions output instead of a top down, bureaucratically-controlled approach.

Although the end justifies the means for leftist activists, the harm of Obama’s plan far exceeded any good it could do. That fact is being ignored by environmentalists, who are now accusing Trump of wanting to destroy the planet.

What Obama imposed unilaterally is rightfully subject to be unilaterally reversed — and there is plenty to be done.

One by one, Trump is unsnarling the red tape that Obama wound around the necks of businesses through the EPA.

Trump has stated his intent to“eliminate federal overreach” and “start a new era of production and job creation.”

To accomplish that, Pruitt needs to fix what is broken in the EPA and set common sense rules.

— RaeLynn Ricarte

While it seems likely President Trump will be getting only sticks and coal in his Christmas stocking from the environmental lobby this year, given his wide-ranging rollback of protection regulations and accords, it remains unlikely he will be presenting any sterling gifts to the industry: Coal is struggling not simply with regulation but with cheaper energy, much of it considered “clean.”

It's easy to lash out at the current administration, but the regulations imposed by former President Obama were already in trouble.

In 2016, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The issue remains undecided, but the Supreme Court’s willingness to issue a stay while the case proceeds was an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices. The 5-to-4 vote, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, was unprecedented — the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court.

The focus on coal pollution is understandable — almost no other industry gives the “dirty” appearance as much as coal, both in extraction and use.

“Clean” energy sources, like wind, solar and hydro, have much more popular support. Even nuclear power is being considered as a “clean” alternative. And I've heard many times how comparatively “clean” natural gas is.

But are these sources of energy truly “clean?” The cheap natural gas boom here in the U.S. stems from the process of “fracking,” an oil extraction method that, while not producing the black clouds of air pollution we associate with coal, has degraded groundwater sources and farm land. Even solar and wind have drawbacks. And I remain skeptical that nuclear energy is a good idea, given that we still have no place or plan for storage of nuclear waste.

We battle coal and oil with great vigor, but are we moving forward or backward as we march behind our clean air and environmental slogans?

Since energy has to be generated somewhere, then stored or transported for use, the best measure of our environmental impact overall is perhaps our own energy consumption.

The U.S. was the second largest energy consumer in 2010 (after China) considering total use, according to Wikipedia, and there is no evidence we have slowed consumption in the last seven years.

Not included in that second-place rating is the significant amount of energy used overseas in the production of retail and industrial goods consumed in the U.S.

Much of what we consume as Americans is made in China, and China ranks first in consumption of energy and emissions are often at toxic levels. We have made some progress, as a nation.

Homes designed today require less energy to heat than homes of the past, and many energy utilities offer grants and programs to reduce energy waste. The numbers, though small, are hopeful.

And as the current administration seeks to dismantle environmental regulations even further, there are still plenty of ways Americans can help their environment compete with the industrial revolution.

Coal is a soft target, but there are a great many other sources of pollution threatening our environment, and therefore ourselves.

Clams and mussels harvested for food from the Pacific Ocean, for example, are a source of plastic in the American diet. A recent study identified the bulk of those contaminates, which are filtered out of the ocean as the mollusks feed, were made up of microfibers from our clothing, plastic made from oil derivatives.

Save the world: Wear wool and cotton.

And with China rejecting our messy “recycling,” which we have long been proud of, we can all take greater care in what we throw into our blue recycling bins.

Save the world: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

To be frank, much of our environmental degradation is from our own consumer-driven actions — our love of buying garbage — coupled with our disinterest in planting trees, conserving our resources, or otherwise putting our resources to use in a positive way.

— Mark Gibson


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment


Information from The Chronicle and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)