WONG: There are no benefits to ending the Clean Power Plan

Abandoning the Clean Power Plan will only weaken the US on a global stage


Despite recent plans to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, the United States is still on path to reduce its carbon emissions to the level set by the rule.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Environmental Protection Agency was established by President Richard Nixon in 1970 in order to “protect human health and the environment.” In his infinite wisdom, President Donald Trump nominated former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next Administrator of the EPA. This choice ruined any chances of federal action to combat the effects of climate change, while ensuring that the United States would cede innovation and development of renewable energy sources to other nations such as China or India. The recent announcement  that the EPA is taking steps to dismantle the Obama-era Clean Power Plan only highlights the need for private industry to take over the mission of a federal agency now controlled by individuals hostile to its very existence.

While the Republican-controlled Congress has little to show for its efforts nine months into the 115th Congress, the EPA has not suffered from the same lack of progress. The EPA has “moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history.” This, of course, does not take into account the actions taken outside of the EPA, including the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement by Trump himself or proposed subsidies for a declining coal industry. It is difficult to trust the EPA with its mission of protecting “human health and the environment” while under the leadership of a man who has rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus over human effects of climate change, previously sued the EPA 14 times and has received over $250,000 in donations from oil and gas companies.

The Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 32 percent by 2030 through investments in renewable energy, shifts away from coal-based power and limiting the expansion of natural gas. Its abandonment in favor of more traditional energy sources such as “clean coal” makes little sense from an economic perspective. A 2017 Business Council for Sustainable Energy report — comprised of companies ranging from Qualcomm to the American Gas Association — noted that “the energy mix has transitioned towards lower-carbon sources … Coal’s contribution to total energy collapsed to 14 percent in 2016, from 23 percent in 2017. Natural gas climbed from 23 percent to nearly 30 percent, while renewables (including hydropower) surged to over 10 percent, from 6.5 percent.” The renewable energy industry is set to grow at a record-setting pace; up to 13 percent from 2015 to 2021, with nations such as China and India rapidly taking up space once occupied by the United States in combating climate change. In choosing to embrace outdated energy sources such as coal, the federal government has set the stage for China and India’s rise, accompanied by a continually declining international opinion of the United States. Yet, despite deregulation by the EPA, it is somewhat comforting to know that the Trump administration’s war against the scientific consensus on climate change is predicted to have little effect on U.S. carbon emissions.

Despite recent plans to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, the United States is still on path to reduce its carbon emissions to the level set by the rule — research conducted by The Rhodium Group has found that “our current predictions put power sector CO2 emissions 27 percent to 35 percent below 2005 levels — bookending EPA’s target for the CPP … Electricity demand has remained flat, rapidly declining wind and solar costs have driven aggressive renewable energy development, and many coal-fired power plants have been retired.” The United States, instead of becoming a global leader in combating climate change, will instead be carried by rival nations. Research released by the Climate Action Tracker found that “the highly adverse rollbacks of US climate policies … Are projected to flatline US emissions. The positive developments in India and China significantly outweigh the potentially negative effects on emissions from the Trump Administration.” By abandoning the Clean Power Plan, the Trump administration discourages development in rapidly growing industries, cedes global authority to other nations and makes a futile attempt at reviving a dying industry. It is, in essence, a completely unviable maneuver — a fitting, if nonetheless disturbing description of the administration’s actions in general.

William Wong is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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