September 2018Policy

Trump’s EPA Proposes Changes That Would Gut U.S. Efforts to Slow Global Warming

If the Trump administration were deliberately working to make its climate policies look stupid, it couldn’t have picked a much better time to do so than this summer.

This August, Trump’s underlings at the EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) unveiled two new rulemaking proposals that if adopted in full would keep US emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, at very high levels through 2030 -- and that might conceivably push CO2 emissions even higher than they would be if the government did nothing to regulate carbon at all.

Yet over the past year, as Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang reports for the Washington Post, bizarrely high temperatures have been recorded in a host of different countries ranging from China and India to Armenia.  A growing chorus of climate researchers are blaming such “extreme weather events” on the very industrial CO2 emissions Trump is proposing to deregulate.

This past summer, heat waves around the world have killed dozens of people, including 80 killed in Japan and another 90 who died in a Greek heat wave accompanied by raging wildfires.  In the US since April, California wildfires triggered by heat and drought have burned more than 1 million acres of land and destroyed some 8,800 houses in 2018, and the wildfire season is far from over yet.

Lethal hurricanes and floods also have devastated many parts of the world over the past two years, from Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the Indian state of Kerala, where freak monsoon rains and floods have killed hundreds and displaced more than 1 million people from their homes.  As this update of the Socialist goes to press, a suddenly busy 2017 hurricane season has a 500-mile-wide Category 4 monster, Hurricane Florence, zeroing in on the Carolinas.

Nevertheless, on Aug. 2, the EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly published a draft rule slashing Obama-era regulations mandating continuing improvements in gas mileage for automobiles and light trucks sold in the U.S.  Some analysts say this so-called “SAFE” proposal could increase U.S. oil consumption by some 500,000 barrels a day by around 2025, spurring much higher costs for drivers.

And in place of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from electrical generation, EPA is proposing an alternative “Affordable Clean Energy” (ACE) plan. It would allow existing coal-burning power plants to be upgraded for modest per-hour carbon dioxide reductions that would encourage utility managers to rely more on these generating stations  each year, rather than switching to alternative ways to generate electricity, such as renewable energy or natural gas.  The likely result will be increasing CO2 emissions from the utility sector overall, even though the hourly emissions of individual coal plants may fall a little.   The Union of Concerned Scientists’ analyst Julie McNamara said “The result is a green light from EPA to sink major investment dollars into [coal burning] plants—regardless of pollution, regardless of payoff, and regardless of public health costs.”

The EPA is fudging numbers and easing requirement metrics to take these policy reversals even further, McNamara warns:  “Together, the net result would be a regulatory framework aggressively biased in industry’s favor, and a Trump Administration suddenly able to claim that public health protections are just not worth the cost.”

Members of the public – including interested DSA members – have until late October to submit comments on the SAFE rulemaking and the ACE proposal. To submit public comments on the SAFE proposal, click on www.regulations.gov and go to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0283.  Public comments on this docket are due on or before October 23, 2018.

EPA says it will accept public comments on the proposed ACE rule through Oct. 31, 2018.  (For EPA information on how to submit comments, click here:).

But will the regulatory agencies pay any attention to public comments?

In a recent interview, Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Program at the Center for Auto Safety said Trump’s EPA will no doubt “ignore” comments from critics of the proposals.  However, Becker added, a host of environmental organizations and the State of California are certain to launch a barrage of lawsuits against the SAFE rule.  No doubt the same storm of litigation will greet any effort by EPA to adopt ACE.  Becker says that intelligent public comments submitted to the proper EPA dockets could prove important in shaping the outcome of the court cases, which means it is worthwhile for ecosocialists and other progressives to submit such comments.

In more courtroom ammunition, EPA’s own studies show significant adverse public health effects for both proposals, as Bloomberg News and New Yorker writers have dug out of the record. All these factors likely mean the proposals will be enmeshed in the courts, causing the industries involved – the electric power companies and auto manufacturers -- high levels of uncertainty about the conditions they will work under in the near and long term.

In the view of many critics, the SAFE proposal weakening auto fuel efficiency also may make US automobiles less marketable globally.  What the Trump administration is proposing would leave the US with weaker fuel efficiency standards than those of the EU, Japan, China, India and even Saudi Arabia, and this could cut into Detroit’s future overseas sales.

The consensus among many environmental experts and even capitalist business reporters is that the proposed SAFE and ACE standards will not “make America great again,” nor even bolster the health of U.S. capitalism: instead, both regulatory proposals will sacrifice consumer protection, public health, and the prospects of curbing “global warming” – and some would say, future job creation -- to the narrow interests of the fossil fuel industry.

DSA members and other progressives who want to submit public comments on these proposed rules would do well to study what knowledgeable analysts are saying about them. EPA’s technical documents in support of both the ACE proposal and the SAFE proposal run into hundreds of pages, and the logic offered in support of these fossil-fuel boondoggles is tricky.

To get a grasp on what’s at stake, it’s probably best to consult Julie McNamara’s blog posts about ACE and related attacks on EPA’s regulation of environmental risks on the UCS web site.

The Safe Climate Campaign pages at the web site of the Center for Auto Safety are useful for understanding the SAFE proposal.

Regarding SAFE, readers likewise may want to look at a blog by UCS’s senior vehicles analyst Dave Cooke regarding the proposal.

 

 

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