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Trump’s Coal Bailout, Repeal of Clean Power Plan Would Bring Early Death to Many Americans

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Trump administration’s proposals to prop up the coal industry and roll back clean air rules would mean early deaths for tens of thousands of Americans, according to new research.  

If implemented, the administration’s proposals would increase two kinds of air pollution from coal plants: ozone and fine particles. These pollutants damage the lungs, heart and brain, triggering an increase in premature deaths. The proposals would also mean that hundreds of thousands more children would suffer from respiratory disease. 

The president’s scheme to force utilities to use electricity from coal plants, even if cheaper and cleaner sources are available, would lead to up to 815 deaths in just two years, economists from the nonprofit research group Resources for the Future said.  

In the longer term, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan would mean 36,000 premature deaths and more than 600,000 cases of childhood respiratory disease each decade, according to Harvard University experts on the human impact of public health policies.

In an analysis published in the journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard economist David Cutler and Harvard biostatistician Francesca Dominici wrote:

President Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt have pledged to reexamine landmark environmental policies and to repeal regulations. In their view, excessive regulations are harming US industry, and thus reducing regulation will be good for business. As Donald Trump has said, seemingly without irony, “We are going to get rid of the regulations that are just destroying us. You can’t breathe—you cannot breathe.” … As has become apparent, however, it is the changes Trump is proposing that are likely to make breathing more difficult. 

Pruitt resigned earlier this month amid a storm of ethical and spending scandals. But in October, he issued a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which would require states to reduce carbon pollution from coal plants and increase their use of renewable energy. And last month, Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to come up with a plan to require regional power grids to buy a percentage of their electricity for the next two years from coal plants that otherwise will be shut down because they’re losing money.

Daniel Shawhan and Paul Picciano of Resources for the Future said that the coal bailout would lead to between 353 and 815 premature deaths by 2020. Because the bailout would only save about 1,600 coal jobs, they calculate that “each year, one American would die from air pollution for every two to 4.5 coal-mine jobs supported by the policy.”

The administration’s foolhardy attempt to stop the looming shutdown of money-losing coal plants is, in part, political payback to Robert Murray, CEO of the nation’s largest coal mining company, who was a major contributor to Trump’s campaign. With Pruitt gone, Murray’s influence with the administration could actually increase. Pruitt’s chief deputy, Andrew Wheeler, was formerly a longtime lobbyist for Murray Energy. Now that Pruitt is out, Trump has appointed Wheeler as acting EPA administrator.  

But coal has become an economic loser and should be allowed to die. Coal plant costs are rising, and they are being pushed out of the market by cheaper natural gas plants, and wind and solar energy. In April, Bloomberg Energy Finance found that nearly half of coal plants now operating lose too much money to stay open on the free market. An EWG analysis last year showed 75 coal and nuclear units are expected to close by 2020, as wind and solar installations continue to rise rapidly.

The Resources for the Future and Harvard studies, among others, demonstrate how devastating coal-fired power is to human health. We now have the ability to replace coal plants with clean energy. The Trump administration can either save lives and protect children by supporting the transition to clean energy, or continue down the path of crony capitalism and protect expensive, obsolete coal plants.  

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