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The Latest EPA Rollback: Trump’s ACE Rule

Emily Dao

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Last Wednesday, the EPA finalized plans for its latest rollback of a landmark Obama-era climate policy. It currently looks to replace it with a rule protecting the declining coal industry.

Former President Barack Obama’s rule, the Clean Power Plan (CPP), was the U.S. government’s only policy aimed at directly curtailing pollution caused by carbon-fueled plants. Research suggests President Donald Trump’s new plan would not only harm the environment, but also create major health risks.

Ramifications of Trump’s ACE Rule, According to the EPA

According to the EPA, if the CPP were to be implemented, it would prevent 3,600 premature deaths annually. Additionally, it could prevent over 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks. Trump’s plan, in comparison, could lead to 460 to 1,400 more premature deaths annually and cause exacerbated cases of diseases like asthma.

The Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule will significantly loosen regulations imposed on coal-fueled power plants. The ACE rule would grant states more flexibility in deciding whether to require limited efficiency upgrades. The new rule, signed by EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, will allow power plants to operate without adhering to strict national regulation.

Andrew Wheeler, an EPA admin, will be the one to sign off on the new ACE rule.
Andrew Wheeler, an EPA admin, will be the one to sign off on the new ACE rule.

“We are gathered here today because the American public elected a president with a better approach,” Wheeler said. “One of the president’s first acts in office was to issue an executive order to promote energy independence. In it, he instructed EPA to rescind, replace, or revise the Clean Power Plan.”

Wheeler also criticized the CPP by saying the plan would create an economic burden on low- and middle-income Americans. Ultimately, the regulation was blocked by the Supreme Court after facing legal opposition from 28 states and hundreds of companies.

Differences Between the CPP and ACE

President Barack Obama pushed back against coal and fossil fuels via the CPP.
President Barack Obama pushed back against coal and fossil fuels via the CPP.

Through the CPP, Obama pushed for the reconstruction of power grids to lessen the country’s reliance on coal and fossil fuels for energy. He also called for a fixed national emissions limit. The plan aimed to slash U.S. power sector emissions up to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

While the ACE rule still complies with the EPA’s legal obligation to reduce carbon emissions, it does so on a much smaller scale. Under this plan, the United States would only cut 0.7-1.5% of emissions by 2030.

“The Trump plan is founded upon a warped reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act that allows states to decide whether or not to regulate one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in our country,” Democrat Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said about what he calls a “dirty power plan.”

Reactions to Trump’s ACE Rule

It’s likely Trump will face the same legal turmoil as his predecessor while trying to impose the ACE rule. Already, attorney generals from California, Oregon, Washington State, Iowa, Colorado, and New York have announced plans to sue the U.S. government to halt the rule. Environmental groups will likely join the legal battle against the new rule too.

However, one group largely backing this new plan is perhaps obvious: coal miners. Throughout Trump’s campaign, he has vocalized his support for the revitalization of the coal industry.

Trump’s Advocacy for the Coal Industry

While on the campaign trail in 2016 amidst “Trump Digs Coal” signs, the president repeated at rallies, “We are putting our great coal miners back to work. I’m coal’s last shot.” Trump has made a point to advocate against the “war on coal,” and in agreement with this belief, one of Trump’s first moves as president was the cessation of the CPP.

Trump dubs himself "coal's last shot" and stops the CPP as one of his first changes to the EPA.
Trump dubs himself “coal’s last shot” and stops the CPP as one of his first changes to the EPA.

Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist himself, emphasized the benefits the ACE rule will have on rural communities dependent on the coal industry for employment.

“I’m glad that the current leadership here at the EPA understands that we can have smart environmental regulations and protect coal jobs and our economy at the same time,” Republican Representative Bill Johnson of Ohio said in support of Trump’s new rule.

Despite Trump’s advocacy for the coal industry, far more coal-fueled power plants closed down than in Obama’s first term. As found by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, national coal consumption has plummeted 39% to the lowest level it has seen in 40 years. Competition from other energy sources, including natural gas and wind energy, explains this drop.

Conclusions on EPA Rollbacks

So while it’s clear that the coal industry is declining, Trump’s new plan may stall its downfall. The ACE rule displays the stark contrast between Obama and Trump’s approach to environmental regulation. This new rule further shows in the battle for environmental protection, Trump will continue to side with big coal.

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Australia Gets Flamed For Neglecting The Climate Emergency In The Pacific

Rich Bowden

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Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction

Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has re-opened the controversy over Australia’s high-handed approach at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. Australia has been accused of trying to silence Pacific leaders, like Sopoaga, who are demanding it to do more to combat climate change.

Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in August. 

At the forum, Australia pressured Sopoaga among other pro-climate action leaders from the Pacific, to accept a watered-down communique. Many leaders believe it would do little to combat the climate emergency in the Pacific.

Australia not tackling the Pacific’s unique climate challenges

Sopoaga told Australia’s SBS News he thought hosting the PIF forum in Tuvalu would highlight the challenges facing smaller Pacific nations. He said he sought to show countries like Australia the existential threat climate change poses to low-lying countries like Tuvalu.

However, he regretted that support was not forthcoming. Further, he didn’t like that Pacific leaders who spoke out on climate change had the chance to accept hush money.

“Putting this money on the table … and then expecting Pacific Island countries like Tuvalu to say ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about climate change’ … is completely irresponsible,” he added.

Sopoaga said action was needed at domestic level in countries such as Australia to have any effect.

“Any amount of money that is coming with the Step-Up [Pacific aid program] cannot be seen as an excuse for no action at a domestic level to cut down on greenhouse emissions.”

Climate change poses an existential threat to Tuvalu

Tuvalu, like a number of low-lying Pacific micro-nations, is under threat from climate change. The sea has almost claimed two of the nine islands. And with the highest point only 4.6 meters above sea level, locals fear they will one day be completely swamped. 

Home to just 11,000 people and an average of just 6.6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is in danger. In fact, its people are already making plans to evacuate should sea levels rise further.

Sopoaga has previously rejected offers to relocate the people, saying it won’t make a significant difference.

“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues,” Sopoaga says. He adds, “If you put these people in the middle of industrialized countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” as he told The Guardian in May. 

Sopoaga’s term as Tuvalu PM came to an end last month after losing a vote in the country’s parliament. The expectation is that his successor, Kausea Natano, will continue the call to action from the world on climate change.

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Brexit Is Overshadowing Climate Activism

Haider Sarwar

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Brexit

Due to the ongoing Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, discussions regarding climate change legislation has been postponed. The European Union meets four times a year in Brussels, Belgium, and this past week the British Parliament asked for yet another extension on formulating a plan to decarbonize by 2050.

The 2050 Plan

In November 2018, the EU proposed to have its total carbon emissions reach a net-zero by 2050. This was a move unique to the EU, and it sought to motivate other countries such as the US and Brazil to follow its footsteps. Over half the members of the EU, including the UK, have signed onto this plan.

Critics have deemed this plan as ambitious and near impossible. Moreover, there is a lot of pressure on European governments from large industries. Still, there is hope for the EU to reach this goal as many of the members are adamant about decarbonizing all of Europe. The biggest obstacle to this plan, however, is the countries’ internal affairs. The prime example of this is the UK’s notorious Brexit plan.

Brexit’s Prolonged Existence

In June 2016, a referendum on whether to leave the European Union was held in the UK. Then, 51.6% of people voted to leave. Ever since, deals illustrating better ways for the UK to leave the EU have been proposed. Both the EU and the UK have shared and torn apart these deals. Today, the disagreements persist with a very obscure future. 

It is partly because of this ongoing issue that the EU was unable to present a proper plan for decarbonization at the UN climate summit last month. The aforementioned meeting in Brussels also illustrated that the UK won’t adopt the decarbonization plan. Many EU officials have expressed annoyance towards the UK for this reason. Climate activist Greta Thunberg further argued that if politicians and governments were serious about tackling climate change, they would not spend their time “talking about taxes and Brexit.”

The adoption of the 2050 plan from the UK is being pushed to take place in 2020. The EU has little interest in refusing the UK of an extension, too. This is because a chaotic no-deal scenario would be initiated by the EU, which would be less than advantageous. 

Internal issues such as Brexit have been an obstacle to the EU’s proposed climate action for years, now. It is essential for Great Britain to pull itself out of the ongoing issue to create a plan for the future.

Will The UK Set Aside Politics To Focus On Climate Change?

Many activists wish to see countries such as the UK set aside their politics to focus on more important issues like climate change. It is unclear how long it will take for the UK and the EU to finally reach an agreement about Brexit, but there is hope that this extension will be the last one.

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Congress Unveils First Bill To Address Climate Refugee Crisis

Ari Kelo

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Climate refugee

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill to protect climate refugees.

The Climate Displaced Persons Act, written by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), would create a new federal program specifically for refugees displaced by climate change. If enacted into law, the U.S. would take in at least 50,000 climate refugees each year, beginning in 2020.

Although long overdue, backlash from both President Trump and the Republican-led Senate may stall any attempts to turn this bill into law. Regardless, this bill provides an important blueprint for future policies on climate-related migration.

And notably, this bill is the first of its kind to address the growing number of migrants displaced by climate change.

What is the Climate Displaced Persons Act?

Written in reaction to the rising number of people displaced by climate-related catastrophes, this bill would create an action plan on how the U.S. can help.

Since 2009, a climate-related disaster has displaced about one person every second. This rate accounts for extreme weather events, famine, drought, and rising sea levels, among other climate emergencies.

Overwhelmingly, 22.5 million people have been displaced due to climate change in the past decade. And the UN speculates that number could rise to 200 million forcibly displaced people by 2050.

Accordingly, this bill has two major aims. It intends to “establish a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy and authorize the admission of climate-displaced persons,” according to its first draft.

In particular, the bill entails the U.S. taking on more responsibility in handling the global crisis.

It would create a humanitarian program separate from the U.S. refugee admissions program, specifically for those affected by climate change. The new program would guarantee the same benefits for climate refugees.

The legislation would also task the Secretary of State with devising a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy. This is turn will create a Coordinator of Climate Resilience position within the State Department.

If made law, the bill will also provide a minimum of 50,000 climate migrants resettlement opportunities in the U.S. each year.

New legislation for climate refugees

To Rep. Velázquez, immigration policy must acknowledge the role of climate change.

“If we are going to meaningfully discuss comprehensive climate equity and climate justice, we must inject security assistance and resettlement opportunities for climate-displaced persons into our conversations,” she said in a press release.

So far, the U.S. has failed in this cause. Just last month, President Trump reduced the maximum refugee cap to 18,000 — a new low. And with his administration tightening up on immigration of all kinds, it’s unlikely he’ll loosen up on climate-related migration, to say the least.

But President Trump’s refusal to support climate science or immigration hasn’t dissuaded Rep. Velázquez.

“Despite this Administration’s efforts to strip the world’s most vulnerable populations of refuge, America will continue to stand tall as a safe haven for immigrants,” she insisted.

After its introduction on Wednesday, the House referred the bill to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committees on the Judiciary and Energy and Commerce will also review the bill before the House continues its deliberation.

Democrat Edward Markey, a key supporter of the Green New Deal, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

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