By Paige Munshell
Americans have come to expect electricity at the flick of a switch: immediate light, heat and entertainment is required in a world that places value on convenience. And it all can be traced back to a coal plant, pumping black soot into dirty air. Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. The release of these emissions can be largely attributed to coal, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration found produced 30.4 percent of all U.S. energy in 2016.
Hope was prevalent in 2015 when former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan was finalized. The policy was developed under the Clean Air Act and would require states to reduce reliance on electricity from coal-powered plants and instead switch to more sustainable sources.
Campaign promises to repeal the plan, end U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Agreement and revitalize the coal industry were prominent in President Trump’s agenda during the 2016 presidential race. One of his well-known slogans was “end the war on coal.” Now Trump supporters might be able to rejoice, Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt announced Oct. 10 a proposal to repeal the Obama-era legislation.
The EPA announced via their website the policy “exceeds the Agency’s statutory authority” and repealing it will “facilitate the development of U.S. energy sources and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens.”
The unsafe conditions of coal-mining can hardly be contested, with the threat of physical injury increased through techniques such as mountaintop removal. Injury from equipment malfunction or tunnels collapsing are not the only dangers faced by miners. Constant exposure to dust leads to the threat of black lung disease, a disease that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found to be rapidly progressing since 2005.
Saving the coal industry means continuing to place workers and civilians at risk, even when less dangerous energy sources like renewables and natural gas are readily available. Miners are not the only ones whose health is affected, as many reports, including those from the NAACP, find that a disproportionate amount of people living next to dangerous coal mines and power plants are low-income and people of color. When Pruitt plans to remove the Clean Power Plan, he does not have to be worried for his own health. The issue of large-scale climate change seems to be many years away, and the immediate health impacts on low-income communities that include asthma, cancer, respiratory disease, and premature death will not affect him.
Repealing the Clean Power Plan will be detrimental in achieving the United State’s goals as set in the Paris Climate Agreement, an international effort President Trump has withdraw from. Not only is the repeal a success for Trump’s platform, it is a victory for Pruitt himself. Prior to his assignment as EPA chief, Pruitt worked as an attorney in Oklahoma helping lead the 24 states that sued the EPA in order to challenge the Clean Power Plan. Since then, Pruitt has done more than challenge the EPA — he’s taken over.
If Americans ever hope to see air pollution decline and to reduce the country’s impact on global warming, their hopes should not be with Pruitt. Under his authority, the EPA will continue to roll back policies that protect our planet, and push forward policies that protect the coal industry.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Paige Munshell is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.