OP-ED | Air So Great You Can Choke on It
In a futile effort to send West Virginia coal miners back to work, President Donald Trump has acted to roll back some of the Obama administration’s clean air rules. I hope you like your air extra chunky.
Trump, who is acting more and more like a Captain Planet villain every day, is looking to get rid of former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which restricts emissions from power plants that burn natural gas and coal. A lot of these plants are in the Midwest, far away from Connecticut.
However, just because the plants themselves are hundreds of miles to the west doesn’t mean we’re safe. Wind in this country generally blows west to east, so all the nasty garbage pouring out of these plants is blown away from Ohio and Indiana, straight into the lungs of you and me.
That means that what the states by themselves can accomplish is limited, because pollution doesn’t care about state lines. The northeastern states have banded together in something called the Ozone Transport Region, which is aimed at standardizing clean air regulations across all its member states.
Unfortunately, efforts to get the federal EPA to forcibly add states to the south and west to the OTR haven’t worked out. So we can be as clean as we possibly can be, but we’re still standing downwind of an obnoxious jerk smoking a cigar.
That situation is what the national Clean Power Plan was supposed to help with. A lot of that Midwestern and Southern pollution that finds its way here comes from older power plants burning coal and natural gas. Limiting their emissions is a good way to keep the trend of better air going.
Air quality has been improving in Connecticut for 40 years, believe it or not. There are far fewer days that exceed ozone particulate targets now than there were in the 1970s. That’s all due to stricter rules on the environment coming out of the EPA.
We also have cleaner lakes and rivers, fewer brownfields, less ground pollution, and cities and towns that are generally clean of litter and refuse. The environment is a long way from where it should be, and climate change threatens everything, but we’re making visible, necessary progress.
Trump is thoughtlessly throwing it all away. Not only has he taken action to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, his proposed budget provides zero dollars for dozens of EPA programs intended to make air, water, and ground cleaner. Among the programs slated for drastic budget cuts: Long Island Sound cleanup and brownfield remediation.
What’s the point of all this? If it seems like gutting environmental programs is shortsighted and, frankly, stupid, that’s because it is. But the EPA is now run by an extremist who knows nothing about how the environment actually works, and the President of the United States once tweeted that climate change is a hoax whipped up by the Chinese.
Trump is pitching his disastrous rollback of environmental rules as a job creating initiative. The relaxation of rules keeping coal mine runoff out of streams and power plants from belching too much noxious smoke will, the president has confidently said to crowds of cheering West Virginians, bring back coal mining jobs.
This is baloney. Jobs in Appalachian coal mines have been on the decline for decades, and the EPA isn’t to blame for a lot of that. Competition from cheaper sources of energy, like natural gas, have been driving down coal consumption. Clean power sources like solar and wind are getting cheaper. Exports of coal are unreliable. Automation of coal mines has meant fewer and fewer jobs for humans. And, well, there just isn’t as much of the stuff in the Appalachian Mountains anymore, meaning it’s harder and harder to mine coal.
It’s easier to blame the government in far-off Washington, though, than it is to blame big global forces for the decline of an industry. That’s the kind of easy lie Trump cruised to power with, and the reason the federal government is turning its back on the environment just as we start to really feel the effects of climate change.
States can’t do much about this. We here in Connecticut can pass stricter environmental regulations, but without federal dollars it’s very hard to get anything substantive done. Attorney General George Jepsen is joining other attorneys general to try to scuttle the gutting of the EPA in court, but the chances of success are unknown.
In the meantime, we’ll look to the west and hope the wind changes direction.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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