(de)regulation nation: EPA doubles down on the doublespeak with new "Affordable Clean Energy" plan

"A thirsty press is essential to a free country."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

Each issue includes updates on Trump administration rollbacks of conservation, environmental, and public health protections, as well as news from across the political spectrum about what’s going right and who’s fighting back. I call the format is B2G2: Bad, Better, Good, Great.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist, and 2018 Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism fellow at the CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Send your feedback and story tips to emily@deregnation.com.

If a friend forwarded this newsletter to you, sign up today at deregulationnation.substack.com. Thanks.


What makes one environmental story good, and another bad?

When a state or utility sets an aggressive clean energy goal — such as phasing out coal-fired power before 2050 — that’s good news on a big scale for slowing down climate change, improving air quality, and lowering rates of asthma and other diseases, and that’s how I’ll probably write it up here.

But it may be bad news for the people in towns and counties that rely heavily on coal mining and coal-fired power plants for jobs. Even in coal-economy states like Wyoming, where sun is also an ample resource, or wind-rich Montana, programs that retrain workers and build renewable energy industries are just getting started, as this on-the-ground 2017 story in The New York Times describes.  

As a native New Yorker, I regularly see my city’s local people, politics, and problems covered nationally. When the reporting is done badly or spun to create some political point, that irritates me.

So while I’ve never reported in West Virginia, I can imagine that many West Virginians are long past tired of being called out in the “national conversation” when it comes to closing down their coal mines with no concern for where new jobs will come from, while much less attention is devoted to the failures of regulators at all levels to solve serious local and regional environmental health problems (like drinking water contaminated with industrial chemicals (via NBC News), or the resurgence of black lung disease (via The New York Times).

Local reporting from coal and gas country, including entrepreneurial and other new projects like the Appalachian Reporting Project,  ProPublica/Charleston Gazette Mail’s The New Power Brokers collaboration, and Southerly, help me find more nuanced reporting and diverse regional perspectives to add more shades of gray to (de)regulation nation’s high-contrast B2G2: bad, better, good, great.

What other newspapers, digital newsrooms, blogs, podcasts, social feeds, radio shows, etc. from around the U.S. should be on my radar? Please let me know at emily@deregnation.com, or in the comments below this issue of (de)regulation nation.

Onward:

bad: Trump administration’s new plan for pollution from coal-fired power plants looks nice to some utilities and conservatives, but trashes public health and the climate

  • On August 21 the Environmental Protection Agency released its replacement for the Obama-era “Clean Power Plan” or CPP, which was stalled by the Supreme Court after two dozen states sued to stop it.

  • The new, replacement plan, dubbed the “Affordable Clean Energy” or ACE rule, guts the CPP, which incentivized utilities to shutter coal-fired plants in favor of lower-carbon sources by putting strict limits on climate-heating carbon dioxide pollution.

  • ACE largely cedes federal authority over the CO2 pollution to the states, doing away with “New Source Review,” a federal rule regarding standards and upgrades to the emissions-filtering technologies on power plant smokestacks.

  • Presumably the conservative-led states that sued to stop the CPP will use this flexibility to allow existing coal-fired power plants to run longer than they could have under the CPP.

  • Extending the lifespan of these plants means they’ll pump more CO2 into the atmosphere, along with more soot and smog-forming pollutants, than would have been the case with the CPP.

  • The EPA estimates the plan will create some “collateral effects” including: up to 1,400 more premature deaths a year by 2030, up to 15,000 more cases of upper respiratory illness, increased rates of bronchitis, and at least 21,000 missed school days by children who become ill from air pollution.

  • EPA also estimates that CPP would be seven or eight times cheaper to implement than even the Obama administration anticipated.

  • ACE also won’t reverse the overall decline of U.S. coal mining jobs, although might create more in short-lived bursts. The industry is extremely “efficient” — mining more coal with fewer workers — in coal-rich regions like the Powder River Basin; and faces headwinds ranging from cheap natural gas to fast-declining prices for renewables, strong clean power incentives from about half the states, and varied degrees of climate action by nearly every other nation on Earth.

  • Read more: So much good reporting out there on this. A few stories to get your started:

    Related: Reporter Lyndsey Gilpin asks readers to send tips on people and places in the South that are responding to the challenges of climate change, in “Summer storms, Kentucky caves, & a coal miner’s climate movement,” via Southerly

better: Interior cancels sale of public land within Obama-era boundary of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

  • In December, President Trump reversed President Obama’s expansion of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to 1.9 million acres, removing 900,000 acres of public land from monument status.

  • The Bureau of Land Management has been creating a management plan for those newly-unprotected acres, which includes opening a large portion to mining and drilling, as well as selling 16 parcels totaling over 1,600 acres to private developers.

  • But now top agency officials, saying they were “caught off guard” by the proposed sale, have nixed it.

  • Environmentalists say the plan, even without selling off land outright, is a “giveaway to the energy industry and motorized recreation,” and that Trump did not have authority under the Antiquities Act to shrink the size of Staircase or any national monument. Trump also sharply reduced the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument in December.

  • The BLM still hopes to lease around 650,000 acres around the reduced Staircase monument for mining, putting tribal artifacts, fossil deposits, vital wildlife corridors, and public access for hikers and sportspeople at risk.

  • Read more in The Salt Lake Tribune.

good: Federal court slaps down Trump administration’s delay of Clean Water Rule

  • On August 16 a federal district court judge issued a nationwide injunction against federal efforts to delay the Waters of the United States rule, or Clean Water Rule.

  • The ruling makes WOTUS the law of the land in 26 states. District courts have stayed the rule in the other 24.

  • The regulation, crafted by the Obama administration in response to a Supreme Court opinion crafted by now-retired Judge Anthony Kennedy, set the parameters for which small waterways and wetlands are regulated by the federal Clean Water Act.

  • In February the Trump administration announced it would delay implementation of the rule for two years in order to rewrite it.

  • But in his rush to stop WOTUS, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt failed to hold a legally-required public comment period on the delay.

  • “Certainly, different administrations may implement different regulatory priorities,” Judge David Norton wrote in his order, “but the [Administrative Procedure Act] ‘requires that the pivot from one administration's priorities to those of the next be accomplished with at least some fidelity to law and legal process.’”

  • Read all about it in E&E News.

great: Comedian flays bad-faith politics on prime-time paid cable

  • For the latest “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the Daily Show alum’s feature story took a close look at astroturf groups: dark-money-funded fronts with grassroots-sounding names (often involving words like “people,” “citizens,” and “council on"), that actually advocate for industry-preferred policies.

  • “Astroturfing is a serious threat to our public discourse,” Oliver said during the segment.

  • But he also found a lot of comedic gold in the deceptive practice.

  • It was great to see Oliver and his crack reporting-writing team give prime-time viewers tips for sniffing out astroturfing, which has confused the public and delayed better climate, energy, other environmental, and health policies for decades.

  • I needed the laugh.

  • You probably do, too.

  • Watch the whole thing on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s YouTube channel.

Update, August 23, 2018: Edited to correct a few typos, including the suggestion that there are 52 American states (gah).


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This week’s quote is from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who presided over the fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

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email: emily@deregnation.com

twitter: @ejgertz & @deregtracker