December 15, 2017
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Maine’s air and waters at stake in EPA rollback of Obama carbon plan

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
A Pisgah Mountain wind project employee stands in front of one of five recently installed wind turbines in Clifton in April 2017. Federal officials indicated Tuesday they aim to reverse Obama-era carbon emission goals aimed at reducing pollution from oil- and coal- fired power plants nationwide.

Air quality in Maine, often called the “tailpipe of the nation” because of prevailing winds that blow pollution to the East, stands to worsen when the country’s top environmental administrator overrides the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, according to environmental advocates.

Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, said this week he plans to pursue new rules that will reverse mandates set in 2015 by then-President Obama aimed at sharply reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

In a statement Tuesday, Pruitt said the plan overstated the expected health benefits, would cost power producers $33 billion to fully implement and is “inconsistent” with the Clean Air Act.

“We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate,” Pruitt said. “Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.”

In Maine, environmental groups have supported the Clean Power Plan, saying it will reduce carbon emissions and climate-warming greenhouse gases generated in other states that travel into Maine.

Clean air advocates in Maine sharply criticized Pruitt’s decision Tuesday.

“In Scott Pruitt’s ideal world, polluters have total control of America’s energy and environmental policy,” Lisa Pohlmann, head of Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a statement. “That is a disaster for Maine, which is not only downwind from many of those polluters, but is also blessed with abundant clean, local, renewable energy supplies, rather than dirty coal and oil.”

Environmental advocates say reversing the Clean Power Plan could adversely affect air quality in the Northeast, which could lead to greater rates of asthma in the state and more high-ozone health advisories. Coal plant emissions also have been blamed for elevated levels of mercury and lead in freshwater and marine fish populations in Maine, and in birds that eat them, such as loons and bald eagles. The emissions are additionally linked to increasing ocean temperatures that could put Maine fisheries at risk.

Maine gets relatively little of its power from facilities that burn oil or coal. Half the state’s power is generated by hydropower or natural gas, which are considered cleaner than oil or coal. Eleven percent is generated by wind power, 9 percent by oil, and roughly 1 percent by coal, according to the Washington Post.

Environment Maine said in a statement Tuesday that the reversal of Obama’s plan will directly impact the health and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“The massive damage delivered by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the wildfires devastating western communities are a stark reminder why we need leaders who take global warming seriously,” said Jacqueline Guyol, a campaign organizer for the group. “Instead President Trump is moving to dismantle the Clean Power Plan — a step that won’t bring back coal-mining jobs, but will deliver dirtier air, more global warming, and less renewable, made-in-America energy.”

Obama’s plan requires states to collectively cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Goals set forth in the plan have been a key factor in the United States’ ability to meet its commitments under a climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015 — an agreement from which Trump said he plans to withdraw.

The New England Power Generators Association indicated Tuesday in a series of tweets that eliminating Obama’s carbon reduction plan could exacerbate power price differences across the country. Northeastern states that are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, including Maine, decided last month to tighten their carbon emissions on their own, but with Pruitt’s decision other states won’t have to make the same investments, the group noted.

“That makes it harder to compete economically to keep businesses and people here versus states that now won’t have CO2 mandates,” the group tweeted.

Pruitt’s reversal of the carbon emissions plan has been expected since President Trump was elected, after he made campaign promises to take aggressive steps to undo regulatory measures characterized as harming the coal industry.

In March, Trump signed an executive order that weakened Obama-era emissions goals by reversing a ban on issuing coal leases on federal lands, discarding rules to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel production, and lessening the role of climate change and carbon emissions in policy and infrastructure permitting decisions.

Carbon dioxide and methane are two of the primary greenhouse gases that scientific studies have cited as causes of climate change.

Despite Trump’s promises, many energy industry officials and observers have indicated that market demand for renewable and other energy fuels have permanently diminished the importance of coal in the energy sector.

The costs of fully implementing Obama’s plan have been decreasing as U.S. power producers make strides toward meeting the carbon-cutting targets, according to the Associated Press. Expanding energy technologies such as wind, solar and natural gas that pollute less are proving less expensive than anticipated, helping the U.S. advance toward Obama’s goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by nearly a third by 2030.

The resulting decline in coal-fired power plant emissions have been linked to lower mercury levels in tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine from 2004 to 2012, according to the Washington Post.

 


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