President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule is “the most significant environmental rollback in U.S. history,” says Barack Obama’s White House counsel on the environment, Jody Freeman.
With environmentalists and several state attorneys general already headed for court, Freeman says, “all these reversals and all of this litigation means it’s just lost time, lost opportunity, to get on track with a climate agenda. Climate policy is being made right now by the executive branch and the courts. But Congress is missing in action.”
The rollback was announced by Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s EPA chief, who is a former coal industry lobbyist. He says it’s a much-needed boost for so-called “clean coal.”
Michael Gerrard of the Sabin Center for Climate Change says that’s not realistic. “Somebody who is thinking about, do they want to invest a lot of money in making a coal-fueled power plant a little less dirty? Are they going to invest a couple hundred million dollars to do that, if they know that in a year and a half, we may have another president who is going to work very hard to shut it down?”
However, a future president might not find things all that easy. The EPA and other agencies are firing experienced regulators and muzzling scientists. Freeman says,
“One of the most dangerous things I think this administration has done is actually erode the capacity of the United States government.”
And this comes at a time when the magnitude of the climate change challenge is daunting. “It’s almost impossible to imagine big enough steps at this moment,” she says, “We have to be really ambitious about it. We need the administration to be committed to reducing our emissions and to go back to the international context, back to the Paris Agreement and say, ‘we’re in.’”
Gerrard concedes it will be massively disruptive and costly to deal with climate change but, “expensive as that is, it will be much cheaper than not doing it.” And, he adds, America has done it before. “After Pearl Harbour we did it. We can do that again but we need a national consensus.”