Trump’s order tearing up of the Clean Power Plan doesn’t change the economics of coal, but it does feel like a gut punch in the fight against climate change.
PRESIDENT Donald Trump made good on his wrongheaded campaign promise to roll back the clock on coal. But the coal miners who surrounded Trump at the White House this week, as he tore up the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, probably know their industry is never again going to party like it’s 1999. That’s when U.S. coal production was near its peak.
Trump’s executive order does not fundamentally change the economics of power production. The natural gas boom, fueled by fracking, is a huge factor. But coal production has dropped dramatically as renewable power has surged. For every one of the 70,000 coal miners in the U.S., there are nearly 10 workers (650,000) in the renewable-energy sector. That reflects the dramatically falling costs of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. There are twice as many solar-power workers as coal miners alone. For a president who professes to be all about jobs, those should be compelling numbers.
There is no point in underselling the symbolic power and tangible policy consequences of Trump’s retro embrace of dirty-fuel sources. It rightly feels like a punch to the gut for Americans worried that our children and grandchildren will be coping with the consequences of climate change.
Tearing up the Clean Power Rule puts U.S. compliance with the historic international carbon-reducing Paris Agreement out of reach. The White House also signals it will roll back higher fuel efficiency standards for the auto industry, and the Trump budget proposal would gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Climate-change deniers have taken the castle.
But tearing up Obama’s Clean Power Plan does not change the path that Washington and most other states are already on — to meet or exceed the carbon reduction goals embedded in the plan. In fact, of the 27 states which sued to block the Clean Power Plan, at least 21 were on a path to meet those goals by 2030.
Washington state benefits from cheap, clean hydropower. It has a settled agreement to close its last coal-fired power plant — TransAlta in Centralia — and Puget Sound Energy is due to submit its plan to replace coal energy from the Coalstrip plant in Montana with renewable sources.
Coal should stay in the ground, and probably will, despite Trump. Lifting regulations on coal will, at best, restore just 10 percent of coal’s market share, according to The New York Times. But that fractional rise comes at a huge cost to the global movement to address climate change.
As Obama’s Clean Power Plan wound its way through the courts, 18 states, including Washington, stepped forward to defend it. Now, they and their allies in the environmental community should step forward again and demand an energy policy that accounts for the cost of carbon. Trump’s actions this week won’t employ many coal miners, but it should be an employment boom for the lawyers.