Scrapping the Clean Power Plan Won’t Bring Back Coal
EPA chief Scott Pruitt declared ‘the war on coal is over,’ but the loss of coal jobs had nothing to do with the Clean Power Plan, and repealing it is simply a ‘shameful giveaway to profit-driven polluters,’ says Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter
Dharna Noor: Welcome to the Real News Network, I’m Dharna Noor coming to you from Baltimore. On Tuesday, the Trump administration officially filed a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a 2015 Obama administration policy to regulate CO2 emissions. The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce electrical power generator’s emissions by 32% from 2005 to 2030. EPA head, Scott Pruitt, has a long, supported history of a repeal of the Clean Power Plan and as attorney general of Oklahoma, he filed to sue the Obama administration to overturn it along with 23 other states. Now, joining us to talk about all this is Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch. In a statement yesterday, she said, “The scrapping of the Clean Power Plan is a shameful giveaway to profit-driven polluters.” Thanks so much for joining us today, Wenonah.
Wenonah Hauter: I’m so glad to be here.
Dharna Noor: So, I’d like to begin by just asking you what your initial response to this repeal is. Talk about what the impact of this repeal will be.
Wenonah Hauter: Well, I’m not surprised. This is just another occasion where the Trump administration is pandering to their base and saying things that actually aren’t true. The administration cannot just repeal this provision. It has to go through a process at EPA. There will need to be … they will have to ask for comments, they will need to take the comments, write a new rule and then there will be hearings. So, it’s really an attention-grabbing stunt. Now, the Clean Power Plan had already been held up, but interestingly enough, carbon emissions are reducing and it is possible that these reductions will be met even without the Clean Power Plan, even though this is not enough of a reduction. We need to see much stronger reductions of carbon.
Dharna Noor: So, Wenonah, let’s talk a little bit about what the specific impact of the Clean Power Plan would have been. A peer reviewed study in 2015 in the Journal of Nature actually showed that the Clean Power Plan was set to save thousands of lives every year. So, talk about what the impact is going to be if this plan is actually repealed.
Wenonah Hauter: Well, the Clean Power Plan hadn’t actually been implemented yet. What the plan did was direct states to come up with a plan to reduce emissions. It really promoted the use of market mechanisms, things like cap and trade. But, this plan hadn’t been implemented yet, however, many states are taking action on their own, so we need to see emissions continue to be reduced. Reducing emissions will definitely save lives, of course, that’s not something that the Trump administration is concerned about.
Dharna Noor: Pruitt announced on Monday that the war on coal is over, insinuating that the Clean Power Plan repealed will mean that the coal industry will make a major comeback. But many have reported that a coal industry resurgence is impossible, or at least unlikely. Is Pruitt right? Will this move revive the coal industry and if not, why would he say this?
Wenonah Hauter: Well, this is just silliness, and we know that since the 1980s that many changes have taken place in the coal industry, primarily mechanization. We have seen a loss of about 60% of coal jobs because of heavy equipment, because of mountain top removal rather than going into deep mines. Coal jobs have been slipping away and are not going to come back, whether the Clean Power Plan is repealed or not. What we need to do is to have a just transition for these workers. They need to have another option besides coal jobs, so it’s really disgusting the Trump administration, Pruitt, they are taking advantage of these workers who suffer from real poverty and dislocation because of the loss of jobs across rural America.
Dharna Noor: You speak about a just transition for coal miners and people who work in the coal industry, and we know now that actually the renewable energy sector is creating more jobs than fossil fuel industries combined. On Monday, Pruitt also said that he wants to do away with the federal tax credits for the wind and solar power industries. Does this pose an even further problem?
Wenonah Hauter: Well, it does pose a problem and the hypocrisy is stunning because the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed trillions of dollars and subsidies and tax benefits for many decades. In fact, last year alone we know there were at least $15 billion of subsidies and that’s probably a low count. So, there’s a war on the environment, there’s a war by the Trump administration on renewable energy and they’re going to do everything that they can to hurt the industry because the prices are coming down and we’re now in a position where we really can do away with the fossil fuels and move into a renewable energy future. That will create jobs– however, the jobs aren’t necessarily going to be where the coal miners are, so there needs to be a just transition for everybody that has been so impacted by this very dirty industry.
Dharna Noor: Now, Wenonah, your organization Food & Water Watch, will, I’m sure, be pushing against this repeal, but at the same time, you all were quite critical of the Clean Power Plan to begin with. Why? What more needed to be done to reduce emissions from power generators?
Wenonah Hauter: Well, first, as you said in the beginning, the reduction, the cut, in levels of carbon since 2005 would have reduced by 30% by 2025. Well, 2005 was a very heavy year for carbon emissions, so it’s not a good year to make this measurement. It should have been cuts since 1990 and the cuts weren’t deep enough. We really need to get off of fossil fuels in the next decade. We need to make real progress in the next decade and the Clean Power Plan also incentivized natural gas by allowing states to get off of coal, and encouraging them to get on to flex gas, and we really need to get off of fossil fuels. We shouldn’t be building another 40 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. We should be moving into a renewable energy future, which is why we’re so excited about a new piece of legislation that Tulsi Gabbard, representative from Hawaii has introduced, because it really sets the stage for what we need to do in the future.
Dharna Noor: Talk more about that piece of policy. A new poll from the Associated Press and the Energy Policy Institute at U Chicago, actually shows now that over 60% of Americans want the government to address climate change. So, what do you say to those Americans and what kinds of efforts, like the one that you were just speaking about, should people be supporting or focusing on if they want to combat climate change?
Wenonah Hauter: Well, we believe that the federal government has an important role in stopping this existential threat that we face with climate chaos. This bill, the Off Fossil Fuels Act for A Better Future, actually requires that we get off of fossil fuels by 2035 and 80% by 2030. This is a piece of legislation that was written with lots of input from the environmental justice community. It has funding associated with it by requiring corporations to pay taxes on their off-shore earnings and it takes away subsidies to fossil fuels and together that results in about 60 billion dollars annually, a savings that can be applied to a just transition and other ways of really moving into this energy future.
So, I think what’s important about this bill is that it gives people an opportunity to go out and advocate to their elected officials that this is where we need to go. We need to make dramatic changes in the next 10 years. We can’t put it off till 2050 and in the future, we need to stop this now. You know, we’ve seen the terrible storms this summer, we see what’s happened to places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All of the energy for these places hit by hurricanes needs to be renewable and we need to have a real commitment to these kinds of investments. So, it’s very bad to be getting rid of the Clean Power Plan because it’s a terrible symbol moving forward, but we need to advocate for doing much more today and in the next 10 years.
Dharna Noor: Okay, Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch. Again, in a statement yesterday she said, “The scrapping of the Clean Power Plan is a shameful giveaway to profit-driven polluters.” Thanks so much for joining us again today Wenonah.
Wenonah Hauter: Thank you.
Dharna Noor: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.