The U.S. Faced A Huge Climate Setback This Week — But This Catch Is Keeping Us Hopeful

Photo: Chalit Saphaphak

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, formally announced his plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday. An Obama-era ruling, the plan limits the amount of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants in the hopes of encouraging clean energy development.

Pruitt is looking to "facilitate the development of U.S. energy resources and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens associated with the development of those resources." Read: He wants to keep jobs in the coal industry. The announcement doesn't come as much of a surprise, since Pruitt repeatedly challenged the plan in court during his previous role as the attorney general of Oklahoma. President Trump also claimed to have done away with the Clean Power Plan back in September, Grist reports.

The ramifications of supporting coal power plants are clear: More greenhouse gas emissions (the coal and natural gas industries are responsible for nearly 30 percent of emissions in the United States), which fuel climate change and have public health concerns. If passed, this repeal could have a significant impact on the health of kids in particular. A pre-Trump EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan would have saved an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in health care costs by 2030, and avoid 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

But there's a catch.

Like the Paris Climate Agreement, the Clean Power Plan won't just disappear overnight. By voicing his intention to repeal the plan, Pruitt is taking the first step in a long, arduous process. Under his lead, the EPA now needs to go through a formal public-comment period and field concerns from citizens. Then, it needs to provide justification for disbanding the law and put forward a plan to replace it—which could take months, if not years. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that greenhouse gas emissions do indeed threaten public health, the EPA is legally required to curb them in some way.

In the meantime, many states have voiced plans to continue moving toward a renewable energy future, no matter what the government says.

"Even if they repeal the Clean Power Plan, or replace it with something that doesn’t require us to do very much, you still have to reckon with the fact that ultimately regulations on carbon are coming," Ted J. Thomas, the chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, told the New York Times. "So we need to develop options to deal with that other than sticking our heads in the sand and hoping we can just file lawsuits forever. You can either be prepared or unprepared, and that’s a pretty simple choice."

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