Opinion

Bruce Speight: Trump administration’s Dirty Power Plan abdicates federal responsibility to protect Americans from climate change

As communities across Washington deal with raging wildfires and unhealthy air quality, President Donald Trump is turbocharging climate change by enacting a “Dirty Power Plan.” While many states, cities and businesses across the country are taking unilateral actions to slow global warming, in lieu of the federal government, tens of millions of Americans will lose protections against the adverse health and environmental effects of climate change.

On August 21, the Trump administration announced their plans to reverse the Clean Power Plan and replace it with a Dirty Power Plan. The Obama-era Clean Power Plan was set to cut carbon pollution from the electric power sector by 32 percent by 2030, improving public health and helping the nation to stave off the worst impacts of global warming. The replacement plan is expected to flatline or even increase the burning of dirty, dangerous fossil fuels and stymie the transition of the power sector to clean, renewable energy.

Increasing planet-warming emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas, will further exacerbate global warming and destabilize the climate. Already, given the destructive power of extreme weather and wildfires made worse by global warming, this move is sheer folly, and it will have profound consequences.

The Dirty Power Plan is the latest in a long series of Trump administration actions that will lead to more pollution hurting the American people. Last December, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris Climate Agreement, making us the only nation in the world that is not committed to cutting carbon pollution.

In addition, the federal government is rolling back programs that could help the United States meet its commitments to reduce pollution. Beyond replacing the Clean Power Plan, the administration has proposed new rules to roll back the Clean Car Standards, as well the EPA’s standards that govern methane, a potent greenhouse gas released during oil and gas production. To make matters worse, the Department of Energy has proposed to bail out dirty coal plants, demonstrating a clear pattern of disregard for the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is leading to dangerous global warming that will destabilize our climate.

With the Trump administration proposing to delegate the authority to states to determine their own clean power standards, state leadership to reduce carbon pollution has never been more important. In the Northeast, we have a shining example of how bipartisan cooperation can fill the void left by the federal government. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states – five led by Republican governors and four by Democrats – have joined a group called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). At the end of 2017, these states finalized a new plan to cut pollution from power plants in the region by at least two-thirds below 2005 levels by 2030.

This bipartisan program limits power plant pollution, makes polluters pay, and enables the states to invest more in climate solutions such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. This success story has cleaned the air and cut global warming pollution in half in the region, and it proves that working across state and party lines to cut pollution from the power sector is a common-sense solution.

But RGGI only helps a section of the country. Given the urgency of the climate challenge – and the severe stakes of inaction for our citizens, businesses, and communities – we need national programs that will accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions. To prevent the worst impacts of global warming, we will need much more innovative cooperation across our whole economy and society.

This Dirty Power Plan is the latest sign that the Trump administration is ignoring the welfare of its own citizens and shirking the EPA’s mission to protect the environment and public health. And given this Congress’ track record, we have little hope that federal legislators will step in to protect a stable climate and clean air, even though that’s best for their constituents’ health, regardless of party affiliation.

So, it’s up now to the states, cities, counties, and businesses of this country to do more to cut carbon pollution. To that end, Washington legislators are considering legislation that will transition and commit Washington to 100 percent renewable and zero-carbon sources. The recent action by the Spokane City Council setting a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 is exactly the leadership we need right now. The next step is to follow through and make this goal a reality.

With the EPA shirking its responsibilities, it will be more critical than ever for cities and states to continue this leadership and to take decisive action to cut carbon pollution – rather than loosening controls on burning dirty fossil fuels.

Bruce Speight is the executive director of

Environment Washington, a statewide,

membership-based environmental advocacy organization. environmentwashington.org.