Trump's new pollution rules would cause hundreds more people to die prematurely each year, compared to the Obama plan it's designed to replace

  • President Donald Trump‘s administration has released its new plan to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
  • The Affordable Clean Energy rule would impose looser regulations than former President Barack Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan.
  • According to an EPA analysis, Trump’s new rules could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030.

President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday released its new plan to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy plan includes far less stringent regulations than the Clean Power Plan, which former President Barack Obama’s administration proposed in 2015. The new rules would allow states to write their own regulations for coal-fired power plants, whereas the Obama-era plan (which never went into effect) sought to shift electricity production to less carbon-intensive sources.

Because Trump’s plan would likely allow more pollution from power plants to enter the air and atmosphere, the policy could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths annually by the year 2030, according to an analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s projections of pollution deaths

In the EPA’s technical analysis of the new rules, the agency lays our four scenarios. The first scenario is business as usual, without the Clean Power Plan or any other new regulations. The other three compare different models of Trump’s replacement policy to a hypothetical scenario in which Obama’s Clean Power Plan were to go into effect.

In the scenario the EPA deems most likely, Trump’s new rules are projected to cause between 470 and 1,400 more adults to die prematurely each year by 2030 because of the health effects of pollution. The scenario with the most damaging health impacts would be no Clean Power Plan and no replacement, which could lead to up to 1,600 more premature deaths annually.

Donald Trump with coal minersGetty ImagesDonald Trump meets with coal miners.

The EPA’s calculations are based on a Harvard study that linked air pollution to premature death from a range of causes.

The projected rise in premature deaths would be caused by increased concentrations of a set of airborne particles called PM2.5 (an abbreviation for particulate matter with a diameter below 2.5 microns). This pollution is emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels and has been linked to various health consequences, including heart and lung disease. PM2.5 is also known to aggravate symptoms in asthma sufferers and cause respiratory damage, according to the World Health Organisation.

Ozone, another dangerous particle, could kill an additional 20 to 98 people per year, according to the EPA’s most likely scenario.

Increased concentrations of these two types of pollution combined could lead to around 48,000 more cases of exacerbated asthma than would have been seen under the Clean Power Plan, according to the EPA’s analysis. And because of the health impacts of ozone, Trump’s plan would also cause between 7,700 and 48,000 more days of missed school annually for children by 2030.

Pollution-related illnesses led to 9 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015, according to a report released by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health in October. Air pollution is by far the worst culprit, according to the report, and it’s mostly caused by the combustion of fossil fuels like coal.

Coal power is on the decline

“The entire Obama administration plan was centered around doing away with coal,” Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

However, even without the Clean Power Plan, the amount of electricity produced by coal in the US has declined in recent years, as the cost of natural gas and renewable energy sources has dropped.

According to a June report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, close to 40% of US coal plants have already been either shut down or marked for closure. A recent report from the investment bank Lazard showed that the cost of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity from coal is more than double the cost of solar.

Trump’s new plan would only slow the decline of coal’s share of electricity production, according to the EPA’s analysis.

“Wind, solar, and other clean energy sources are beating coal in the marketplace, which is benefiting both public health and the economy,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “That will continue to happen even if the EPA keeps spitting in the wind. Washington ought to lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

Moody’s, one of the world’s largest credit rating agencies, said Trump’s plan is a “positive” for coal plant owners in the short term, it only “moderates the industry’s move away from coal in the long-term.”

“Economics – not regulation – will continue to be the primary driver of coal plant shutdowns,” Moody’s said.

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