by Claire Bekker '21
The Trump administration has taken a clear stance on climate change: it doesn’t exist. From a Chinese hoax to a liberal fallacy, they have branded climate change with various misnomers. Yet they refuse to call it what it is: reality.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the current administration has not only been turning a blind eye to the warnings of environmental advocates and scientists, but now, has taken the next step to dismantle environmental regulations by repealing the Clean Power Plan. Created under the Obama administration, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) made goals for each state to reduce power plant emissions; under the plan, they estimated a net reduction of 32% from 2005 levels by 2030[ 1]. For the United States, the policy was essential to meeting the Paris Agreement, as the power sector accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions . Yet now that President Trump plans to withdraw from the agreement, it will be discarded.
The legal process of repeal is complicated; and the CPP’s future is, and always has been, uncertain. Although finalized in 2015, the plan never took effect due to a series of court battles (many of which involved Scott Pruitt, the current head of the EPA) that challenged its legality. The Supreme Court decided to block its implementation in 2016 until a lower federal court reached a verdict. Like the struggle towards implementation, the repeal process could also be fraught with legal battles. Environmental groups and Democratic leaders hope to delay the repeal until 2020, when a new president could change the Clean Power Plan’s status .
This repeal is part of Trump’s broader agenda to overturn environmental protections and revive the coal industry. Already, he has overturned twenty-five federal environmental rules and is in the process of repealing nineteen more, including the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan . Hoping to appease his Rust Belt voters, Trump has promised that his policies will bring back coal-mining jobs and reinvigorate fossil fuel industries. Key industry leaders of coal, oil, and gas companies have also influenced the rollbacks, issuing petitions to the White House and meeting almost daily with Mr. Pruitt. But will the repeals result in their intended economic effect? Pruitt claims that the country will save $33 billion with the repeal of the Clean Power Plan . However, the coal industry is already floundering due to the flood of cheap natural gas in the market and automation has permanently replaced many coal-mining jobs. Thus, it is unlikely that there will be significant job growth in the coal industry.
Ultimately, how will the repeal of the Clean Power Plan affect nationwide greenhouse gas emissions? Many states are already moving away from coal power and towards cheaper natural gas (although still a fossil fuel, it emits less carbon dioxide than coal) and renewable solar and wind power. A new study by the Rhodium Group found that even if the Clean Power Plan is repealed, there will still be a 27% to 32% drop in power sector emissions from 2005 levels, which is within the range of the EPA’s original estimate. However, up to twenty one states would have reduced their emissions to a greater extent in order to comply with the CPP. Moreover, the CPP created a national regulatory framework and emissions trading system that would have also contributed to the reduction of emissions . Another study by the University of Michigan highlights the urgency of climate action. Even with the Clean Power Plan and the provisions of the Paris Accord, the U.S. would have failed to reduce its emissions by 70%, the goal recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to prevent a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius. The study warns that the window is closing for effective climate action; in the near future clean energy costs will rise and the U.S. will not be able to meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They focused on the auto industry and power sector, which account for half of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. Using the current technologies of efficient internal combustion and hybrid and electric vehicles as well as the current rate of natural gas and renewable energy use, the U.S. still would not be able to produce these technologies fast enough in order to meet its target of a 70% emissions reduction .
Even though the Trump administration is reluctant to do so, we must confront the effects of climate change and take a more comprehensive approach to climate action. As the University of Michigan study attests, the current “business as usual” model will not be effective in preventing major climate change and we cannot rely on the falling costs of clean energy alone to cure us of our fossil fuel addiction . Regardless of the initial costs of climate action and the investments needed to accelerate technological solutions, they cannot compare to the destructive potential of climate change and the costs to human life and the environment.
Many states have promised to meet the conditions of the Paris Agreement and state legislatures are formulating new regulations and action plans to incentivize clean energy. Individuals can also help in this effort. If you are looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, there are many lifestyle changes you can take to do so. By living closer to work, upgrading your appliances to increase their efficiency, eating a largely plant-based diet, having fewer children, and using less electricity, you can drastically reduce your individual carbon footprint. In the face of a willfully ignorant administration, we must harness our personal power in the fight against climate change.