There’s no chance that we’ll solve our current climate crisis by doing nothing, but in the case of Donald Trump’s White House, doing something might actually be less effective than doing nothing. By that I mean that the administration’s proposed pollution plan could be so counterproductive at fixing the environment that we’d be better off if there was no policy at all.
That’s the conclusion of research soon to be published in the journal Environmental Research Letters that looks at what kind of effects the Affordable Clean Energy Rule will have on emissions. Crunching the numbers, it appears that the coal-friendly plan would result in about 11 million extra tons of CO2 by 2050 than if they just eliminated emissions policy altogether.
To be fair, the proposal is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at power plants modestly, with the emphasis on modestly since it amounts to just 0.6 percent over the course of a decade. Indeed, that’s a little bit better than nothing, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that the same policy offers incentives to power plants that use coal, which is, by design, likely to keep coal plants open longer than they would be able to otherwise. Bear in mind that the only reason our emissions levels have decreased to this point is the collapse of the coal industry, which results in less extra dirty emissions in our air.
Of course, Trump has sworn to protect coal miners’ livelihoods despite it being impractical, which is probably why coal plays so prominently in the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. At best, he’ll be delaying the inevitable demise of these coal plants and dirtying our air in the meantime.
Another motivation may be to devilishly advocate for the end of policy and environmental regulations overall. If the Trump administration can put together such a lousy plan that even environmentalists say, “We’d prefer that you did nothing,” they could run with that as a prevailing mentality.
That’d be an incorrect read, however, since there are plenty of policies and approaches that can help our environmental dilemma. For example, Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan – which the Trump admin finally successfully purged late last year – was massively better than Trump’s approach. The same research anticipates an intact Clean Power Plant would have yielded 62 million fewer tons of emissions than the Affordable Clean Energy Rule will produce.
In other words it’s not that doing nothing is a great tactic, but it may be preferable so long as Trump’s energy lobbyists-turned EPA directors at the helm.
Doing nothing seems to be a theme at this EPA in light of some other news that the EPA is pressing charges against rule-breaking polluters at a lower rate than anytime in the past 30 years. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of broken emissions laws that they could be enforcing, it’s that there’s an apathy toward doing so – which in turn tacitly gives corporations permission to ignore the rules.
Clearly, we need to install a new administration – one that believes in the environment and accountability – to take power as soon as possible. Until then, we sadly can’t even count on the supposedly pro-environment plans they propose to actually be of any benefit.