President-elect Donald Trump wants Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)
Pruitt’s nomination is certain to worry environmental activists focused on global warming issues. But Pruitt, who has led Oklahoma’s challenge against President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), could guide the EPA back to its core mission of environmental protection, rather than continue its recent obsession with reducing industrial carbon dioxide emissions.
In selecting Pruitt, the president-elect has staked out a clear position on the looming debate over U.S. energy independence vs. climate change austerity. While serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt argued that the Clean Power Plan infringes on state sovereignty over power generation—a view shared by 27 other states currently challenging the measure.
Overall, the choice of Pruitt suggests that the president-elect is on track to roll back some of the more onerous initiatives of the Obama Administration.
Significantly, the CPP is one of three efforts that have combined to help dismantle much of America’s coal industry. Opponents of the plan note that it would vastly expand the EPA’s authority to regulate state power grids—a move never previously interpreted in the Clean Air Act. And the plan would impose harsh costs on coal-fired power generation to achieve a theoretical 0.018 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures by 2100.
If the Clean Power Plan were not enough to shut down the domestic coal industry, President Obama has also prepared a “Stream Protection Rule” (SPR) that duplicates existing state and federal controls on coal mining.
The rule, which was drafted without the input of coal-producing states, has been written so broadly as to potentially designate half of all U.S. coal reserves off-limits to mining. And where the coal industry has already shed 68,000 jobs in recent years, a fully realized SPR could potentially cost another 78,000 jobs.
The Obama Administration’s hostility to coal also extends to the recent moratorium on federal coal leases.
Under the guise of seeking a more equitable leasing program, the administration launched a review of the federal coal program that generated revenues of $1 billion for American taxpayers in 2014 while also producing 40 percent of the total coal-generated electricity in the United States.
Overall, this trifecta of regulations has grievously burdened the nation’s coal producers while also driving up the cost of power generation in at least 13 states that rely principally on coal-fired power. At the same time, the president has happily subsidized measures to ramp up wind and solar power.
That such renewable energy continues to prove expensive and intermittent (since the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine) has mattered little to green advocates.
Ironically, this investment in green energy has yielded only modest returns even as the domestic coal industry has made enormous investments to reduce emissions. Modern U.S. coal plants are 90 percent cleaner than 30 years ago, thanks to impressive advances in scrubbing technologies. The same money being generously funneled to wind and solar projects could also yield even cleaner coal—which would be a sensible priority since coal has formed the backbone of reliable, robust, and affordable domestic power generation for decades.
The measures implemented by President Obama have obviously been aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But the president’s guiding assumption has been that 20th Century global warming is a principally manmade phenomenon.
Unfortunately, this discounts the work of a broad array of climate activists who continue to argue that increased solar activity, not rising carbon dioxide, has driven recent climate trends. And so, President Obama has unilaterally imposed stunning costs on the nation’s power sector based on a potentially flawed ideology.
Pruitt’s selection for the EPA has sparked yet another round of divisive climate debate.
But there are reasons to appreciate his nomination since Pruitt appears to recognize the benefits of affordable power for the working people of the United States. It’s worth noting that cleaner coal and expanded natural gas production provide sturdy, reliable power generation.
Along with nuclear power, they are the only proven means of reliably producing the massive supplies of electricity needed to treat municipal drinking water, for example, and to process the enormous waste water and sanitation byproducts of large metropolitan areas. And so, there are valid reasons to prioritize such environmental safety issues for the American people.
President Obama’s rush to dismantle coal without assuring a robust alternative could actually threaten the sanitary living conditions of major cities. And so, the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA could help to foster a wider debate on the growing energy needs of America’s expanding population.
While green activists may rush to condemn him, there are important priorities to consider. President-elect Trump’s choice of Pruitt could redefine some of these pressing environmental concerns, even as the new administration prepares to take office.