EDITORIAL: States must step in for EPA

York Dispatch

Maybe we should just change its name to Environmental Destruction Agency.

Because under the direction of Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency more than a dozen times as attorney general of Oklahoma, the EPA is waging what amounts to a deregulatory war on the environment.

It is just another example of the Trump administration’s headlong, headstrong efforts to roll back any progress made over the eight years of the Obama administration, be it in securing health insurance for millions more Americans, restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or taking steps to at least minimize the effects, both national and global, of a warming planet.

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It was probably asking too much that a president who has not yet acknowledged climate change even exists would appoint an environmental guardian to head the EPA. After all, the president campaigned on a promise to revive the coal industry. And he has since thumbed his nose at common sense, science and the world by declaring his intention to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.

But the human wrecking ball that squeaked into the EPA administrator’s office by an all-but-party line 52-46 Senate vote (50 “yesses” were Republican) has set about dismantling environmental protections on a scale never before seen.

Just this summer, attorneys general from 15 states, including Pennsylvania, had to take legal steps to force a Pruitt about-face on a plan to extend the deadline for businesses to comply with the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Now the agency is moving to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit emissions from energy plants. In fact, it was expected to reduce carbon emissions more than 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

By giving individual states customized targets to reduce greenhouse gases, the plan was seen as a key component in helping the U.S. meet the Paris climate goals. Of course, we already know where the current administration stands on that count.

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But isn’t the EPA is legally required to regulate and limit greenhouse gas emissions? Good question: It is; even the Supreme Court has confirmed those obligations.

So what’s Pruitt’s alternative proposal, to ensure the EPA meets its charge? Another good question: He doesn’t have one. The best he did was offer a vague promise to seek public comment on how to reduce emissions from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, which account for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide output.

Here’s a public comment: Leave the Clean Energy Plan in place. While it has yet to take effect after being bottled up in the courts — targeted by lawsuits from some two dozen states and a number of energy organizations — the Clean Energy Plan is a serious, forward-looking blueprint for the type of greenhouse gas reductions the nation and world desperately need.

Indeed, many states are moving forward with plans to meet the goals, federal mandate or no.

Pennsylvania — which has a target reduction of 24 percent below 2012 emissions by 2030 — was initially well positioned to meet this goal, owing to its recent transition from coal to renewable energy, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The fear now, with the EPA and the Trump administration pivoting back to coal, is that the momentum for that transition will flag.

In the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, state Rep. Leanne Kreuger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat, in June introduced a measure calling for Pennsylvania to join the United States Climate Alliance. The bill would commit the commonwealth to adhering to its Paris agreement target.

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It’s time to resuscitate that measure, which has been languishing in the House’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Senate and gubernatorial support are also needed.

Because if the United States is going to slow down the effects of climate change —effects that have been all too clearly demonstrated by the heightened nature of natural disasters from Puerto Rico to the Gulf Coast to the West Coast — it will have to be done despite the so-called Environmental Protection Agency, not assisted by it.