Coal miners listen to speakers during an Environmental Protection Agency public hearing at the state Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, Nov. 28, 2017. Credit: Chris Dorst | Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

Last week, we found out that the Trump administration lied when it said that weakening vehicle fuel efficiency standards would save lives. Now, it has come to light that the administration was warned that easing emissions standards for power plants would cause more Americans to die. The administration ignored the warnings and went ahead with a proposal to allow coal-fired power plants to pollute more.

“Implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health,” the agency wrote in an impact analysis.

Let that sink in: The Trump administration is proposing to replace rules put in place by the Obama administration to reduce emissions from power plants with less stringent rules that will result in death and illness for thousands of Americans.

It is literally putting corporate interests, a pathological desire to undo everything that was done by former President Barack Obama, ahead of the well-being of Americans. We should all be outraged by this.

Environmental regulators from 14 states wrote a letter to the EPA condemning the rollback. Maine was not among them.

“Beyond addressing the serious climate impacts of greenhouse gases, emission regulations also must help people live long, healthy lives – especially in Maine, which has one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation,” Sen. Angus King told the BDN. “Shockingly, this plan does the opposite and is especially bad for Maine, which is downwind of many major sources of pollution. It is a deeply flawed policy, and should be abandoned in favor of an approach similar to the original Clean Power Plan – one that puts the health of the American people first.”

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, then under Scott Pruitt, said it was repealing the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Pruitt said the plan ignored states concerns and partnerships with businesses.

The EPA had previously determined that greenhouse gases are pollutants that endanger public health, and therefore must be regulated. This determination came after the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act; it was not affected by last year’s rollback of the plan.

This means that the EPA must replace the Clean Power Plan with other rules that purport to cut emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases. As expected, the agency is proposing minimal improvements at power plants. It would also delegate authority to the states to set pollution rules, which would allow older, dirtier facilities to remain in operation longer.

In its own assessment, the EPA found that the proposed Trump rules would result in up to an additional 1,400 premature deaths from increased pollution each year by 2030. In a section about “foregone benefits,” the agency’s technical analysis concluded the Trump plan would increase emissions, which would also lead to more cases of asthma, heart attacks, hospital stays and missed school days.

By contrast, the Clean Power Plan would reduce premature deaths by as many as 3,600 annually by 2030. New cases of asthma, hospitalization and missed school days would also have declined.

“In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment,” Sen. Susan Collins told the BDN. “And our state has made substantial progress in reducing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, adopting clean energy technologies, and improving air quality and public health.

“But Maine is also … on the receiving end of pollution generated by power plants in other states. The administration’s proposal to rewrite the national standards established by the Clean Power Plan is a step in the wrong direction,” she said.

At this point, there appears to be a limited role for Congress in stopping these rules. Use of the Congressional Review Act, which would allow the Senate to reject the rules, would likely forestall future power plant rules from the EPA. That is an unacceptable outcome. That leaves the court as the most likely venue for keeping the deadly proposed rules from taking effect.

Of course, it would be better if the administration simply followed the EPA’s guidance and scrapped rules that will unnecessarily sicken and kill Americans. Congress could pass laws to regulate emissions that contribute to climate change, but under Republican leadership such action has been a fantasy.

In November, it is imperative that we elect representatives, at the state and national level, who understand the deadly consequences of refusing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and will take action to reduce them.

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