I know it’s not the most important thing, but one of the fundamental reasons I hate the EPA’s new environmental plan is its name: the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

Why not the Coal Preservation Fiasco, or the Free Market Be Damned Regulations? How about some honesty in the federal government for a change?

Calling coal “clean” compared to wind and solar power and more “affordable” than natural gas is ridiculous, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from President Trump’s lie-filled administration.

Here’s another complaint: Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso eagerly endorsed the EPA’s rule, calling it “good news for Wyoming.”

But there’s literally no chance the ACE rule will be the boon to Wyoming’s economy that our congressional delegation claims it is, and it’s definitely not going to improve people’s health. Coal-fired plants will still close, and energy will not be any cheaper for residents. It’s a giant step in the wrong direction on all fronts.

But let’s say that it was the greatest thing possible for the state. Should we really be celebrating a rule that the EPA estimated will nationally cause up to 1,400 premature deaths annually because of increased pollution in the U.S. by 2030?

With stricter environmental regulations and increasing reliance on renewables and natural gas instead of coal, air has gotten cleaner in America over the past three decades. However, an Associated Press analysis of federal data shows that since Trump became president and put former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler in charge of the EPA, now it’s dirtier.

While he continues to blatantly gut environmental regulations and put Americans’ health at further risk, Trump just keeps lying. On his recent visit to Ireland he proclaimed, “We have the cleanest air in the world in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president.”

In 2017-18, there were 15 percent more days of unhealthier air in America than in 2013-16. Remember who was president then?

Barack Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan would have continued the positive trend in air quality by putting more emphasis on using renewable energy. Before Wheeler got his grubby hands on the EPA to help line the pockets of his former industry, the agency estimated that the CPP would have annually prevented 3,000 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks.

The EPA estimated that the net benefits of the ACE rule by 2030 will be between $125 million and $730 million. The same agency said the comparable figure for the CPP’s net benefits were estimated at between $26 billion and $45 billion.

But lawsuits from the coal industry, Wyoming and 26 other states kept the plan from ever being implemented. Trump repealed Obama’s signature action to combat climate change as one of his first acts, and he’s been busy trying to artificially prop up the coal industry ever since.

It’s not working. Demand for coal continues its rapid downhill slide nationally as coal-fired power plants close; since 2011, 289 of the 530 that existed have been shuttered. Even in coal-friendly Wyoming, four such plants are scheduled to be closed.

The new EPA rule provides incentives for utilities to invest in upgrading aging coal plants that would otherwise be retired. What will utilities do to recoup the money they invest in these dinosaurs? Literally run them into the ground while increasing polluting emissions to ever-higher levels.

Trump keeps catering to his base in Coal Country, where he’s promised to revive jobs that aren’t coming back to a world where fears of climate change and rapidly rising temperatures have forever turned the national political landscape away from coal.

Even though the Clean Power Plan was never implemented, that fact didn’t prevent Wyoming’s lone U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney from claiming that it “was killing jobs, strangling our economy, and slowly destroying our coal industry.” That’s a powerful impact for something that was never approved.

No, Congresswoman, the free market is killing King Coal. Conservatives like you insist that private enterprise should rule the economy, except when capitalism kills the goose that lays your golden egg.

I highly recommend a Vanity Fare analysis of the ACE rule by Bess Levin, “Trump Deals Final Death Blow to the Planet”.

“Trump’s rule will almost certainly increase levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by allowing states to decide how much they want to cut emissions,” wrote Levin. “If they don’t want to cut them at all? That’s totally cool.”

The inherent danger of the ACE rule is that it could provide a test case for the increasingly Trump-packed conservative Supreme Court to determine if the federal government will continue to have a role to play in reducing carbon dioxide emissions — which the EPA declared in 2009 is a danger to public health and welfare — beyond merely making recommendations to the states.

In other words, gutting all federal power to protect the environment, in the name of states’ rights.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that Barrasso chairs, said Trump’s plan “is founded on a warped reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act that allows states to decide whether or not to regulate one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in our country.”

And as regards the alternatives such as carbon sequestration and CO2 recapture that Wyoming Republican Gov. Mark Gordon and his predecessor Matt Mead have promoted to reduce carbon emissions, the EPA chose not to include such research in its plan at all. The agency dismisses the options as not cost-effective.

 But Sen. Barrasso is right about one thing, there is some good news for Wyoming as a result of the new EPA rule: It will never see the light of day. The ACE rule will be buried in lawsuits by forward-thinking states and environmental groups until the next Democratic administration (elected in 2020, I hope) kills it.

Perhaps one day Wyoming will move beyond its near-total dependence on fossil fuels to fund state government, which enables the minerals industry to drive our boom-and-boost economy. We must finally leap into the 21st century and instead focus on clean renewable energy, look for ways to diversify the state’s economy and restructure our tax system.

Retraining hard-working minerals industry employees and providing them the skills they need to get jobs in wind, solar and other non-carbon forms of power would be the best use of Wyoming’s available fiscal resources devoted to energy development.

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The global bad news, of course, is that this political football being tossed around from Obama to Trump to the next president means that the nation isn’t adequately addressing the desperate need to combat climate change by moving toward cleaner energy. But market forces have already driven coal-fired plants from providing half of the nation’s electricity in 2005 to just 27 percent today, and the rise of renewables will continue to decrease our carbon footprint.

I liked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) immediate indictment of the new EPA rule when it was unveiled. “The Trump administration’s dirty power scam is a stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving dirty special interests the greenlight to choke our skies, poison our waters and worsen the climate crisis,” she said. “… President Trump’s shameful response was to put lobbyists and polluters in charge of protecting your health and safety.”

“Dirty Power Scam” is a name I can get behind. I don’t like uttering the words because of the terrible situation it puts the planet in, but unlike the Affordable Clean Energy rule, it speaks the truth.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Gordon wants to sue Washington and Oregon to try to force them to allow coal export terminals. I’m waiting for the counter suits to stop Wyoming from polluting the air in other states by burning and selling coal for fuel. If we are a divided country now, every state going its own way, then being sued by states going another way ought to be a free for all worth watching, from far far away. Why does anyone think all these tactics to delay action on climate change are a good way to go, financially, politically, or environmentally? Yet here we are ready to dig up half our beautiful state, poison its air, water, and wildlife, to achieve a few more years of carbon emissions. It’s short sighted and incredibly selfish to expect the whole world to suffer just so we don’t have to change.