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Trump Administration Admits 1,400+ More People Will Die Each Year Following Coal Plant Deregulation

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President Trump rallied supporters Tuesday night in West Virginia to announce a massive rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants and carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” proposal would allow individual states to decide whether to curb emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency’s own data shows the plan could cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths a year by 2030. The Washington Post reports the deregulation would also lead to the release of at least 12 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next decade. The current head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist. We speak with Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to West Virginia, where President Trump rallied supporters last night to announce a massive rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants and carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” proposal, as he calls it, would allow individual states to decide whether to curb emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency’s own data shows the plan could cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths a year by 2030. The Washington Post reports the deregulation would also lead to the release of at least 12 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next decade.

The current head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist. He’s the one who replaced Scott Pruitt, who had to resign in disgrace.

This is President Trump speaking at the rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Tuesday night.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal. We love it. Great. And, you know, it’s indestructible stuff. In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills. They fall down real quick. You can blow up those pipelines. They go like this, and you’re not going to fix them too fast. You can do a lot of things to those solar panels. But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal. You can do whatever you want to coal. Very important.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also said West Virginia has one of the strongest state economies, and the U.S. is, quote, “the cleanest country in the planet.” Both these claims are false.

We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. She drove in to the studio from West Virginia, where she lives.

Thank you so much for being with us, Mary Anne. Why don’t you start off by talking about what he announced yesterday? We’re talking, as we hear people cheering, about the number of premature deaths as a result of his environmental rollback, by his own data, what, 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030, not to mention the number of new cases in upper respiratory problems, perhaps 15,000, a rise in bronchitis, etc.

MARY ANNE HITT: Indeed. Coal-fired power plants have long been our biggest source of climate pollution here in the U.S., but they’re also our biggest source of all sorts of other pollution, like mercury and soot and smog and water pollution. And so, by rolling back these climate safeguards for power plants, the EPA’s own numbers show that up to 1,600 premature deaths every year could be attributed to this rollback. And this has long been high on the wish list of the coal industry to roll back Obama’s signature climate standard, the Clean Power Plan. That is what Trump announced in West Virginia yesterday. And while it is very frustrating for all of us who breathe and for folks like myself who are parents who are worried about what kind of world we’re bringing our kids into, there is a little bit of good news, which is that, fundamentally, we believe this proposal will fail.

AMY GOODMAN: The regulations themselves acknowledge in fine print the 1,400 more premature deaths a year as a result of the rollback.

MARY ANNE HITT: Indeed. It’s a pretty shocking admission, frankly, from the agency that’s supposed to protect public health and safety, the EPA, that they are putting 1,600 lives a year in danger to benefit coal executives, frankly, to benefit coal executives who are running power plants that can no longer compete against renewable energy, that are polluting our air and our water and our climate, and are, frankly, facing stiff competition these days from wind and solar. And so, putting the health of our families at risk, regular Americans at risk, to bail out coal executives and to further line their pockets is a pretty shocking admission from the EPA. But that is what Trump has been doing. And these are the same coal executives that put him in office. There are lots of photos circulating out there about them literally handing their wish list over to his agencies. So, it’s not a surprise, but, again, it is also something that I believe is ultimately not going to succeed.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of Andrew Wheeler in all of this, who replaced the disgraced former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt? Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist?

MARY ANNE HITT: Yes, Andrew Wheeler has taken over from Scott Pruitt, who left in scandal, notoriously, for all his corrupt dealings, from soundproof phone booths to expensive fountain pens and much, much more. Part of the reason that I believe that this has taken so long to come forward, this rollback of the Clean Power Plan, is because of all the scandal that surrounded Scott Pruitt. And frankly, I think that this policy bears all the hallmarks of that same corrupt administration, which is, again, a handout to coal executives that Andrew Wheeler, on his—in his first interview, was very clear that he was going to carry forward the agenda of Scott Pruitt, the frankly corrupt agenda of Scott Pruitt, that puts our health at risk, to bail out some coal executives.

And so, one thing that is also important to note, though, for Mr. Wheeler and his leadership at the EPA, is that the Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon pollution 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, so 32 percent from the electric sector. We are already at 28 percent. We have almost reached the targets of the Clean Power Plan almost a decade ahead of schedule, because of grassroots leadership and leadership from states and cities, retiring coal plants, replacing them with clean energy. So, Andrew Wheeler may be trying to do the bidding of his former bosses at Murray Energy and other coal companies, but the reality is that coal is not coming back, thanks to grassroots leadership and market forces. And Andrew Wheeler and Donald Trump cannot stop that progress. They can slow it down. They can make it more difficult. But it’s not something that they can stop.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have Andrew Wheeler recently finalizing the EPA’s first new regulation to start rolling back the standards protecting waterways from toxic coal ash.

MARY ANNE HITT: Yes. Many Americans are not aware that one of the largest sources of pollution in this country is toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants, which the coal ash that’s left behind in power plants includes very nasty substances like mercury and arsenic and lead, and it’s stored in these unlined holes in the ground in over a thousand communities across this country. And there were no federal safeguards for how it was disposed of, until Obama came into office. Another item on the wish list of the coal industry for Trump was to remove those coal ash safeguards. That is something that Scott Pruitt also did. He managed to get the first—over the finish line the first rollback of those coal ash standards.

But the good news there is we actually won a court victory yesterday—Sierra Club, Earthjustice and many other organizations—that is going to call into question whether that rollback can go forward. So, not only are these rollbacks endangering our health, but many of them are, we believe, illegal, violating the Clean Air Act, violating the Clean Water Act, flying in the face of these bedrock environmental statutes designed to protect our health and safety. And these—another thing to remember about both the dirty power plan, the coal ash rule rollbacks and all the rest is that they have a long road ahead before they actually get over the finish line. They have to go through public comment. They have to survive court challenges. And as we just saw yesterday with the coal ash rule, when you’re twisting the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to do the bidding of fossil fuel executives, you very well may be running afoul of the law, of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

AMY GOODMAN: The plan that Trump’s EPA wants to replace was at the center of President Obama’s regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. This is Obama announcing it August 3rd, 2015.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today we’re here to announce America’s Clean Power Plan, a plan two years in the making and the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump [sic] in 2015. Mary Anne Hitt, as we wrap—that was President Obama in 2015. Mary Anne Hitt, as we wrap up, how set in stone is—are his plans here? And what do people around the country—do they have any role in whether this rollback will be implemented?

MARY ANNE HITT: Oh, absolutely. So, the status of this is it’s a proposal. It requires 60 days of comment, so people can comment. There will be public hearings. And again, there will likely be legal challenges. So people can weigh in there.

But the even more important thing that people can do is join efforts to retire coal plants around the country and replace them with clean energy. We have retired a coal plant every 16 days while Trump has been in office. We’re retiring coal plants at the same rate under Trump as we were under Obama. And we have over half the coal plants in the United States announced to retire. So we’re not building any new coal plants. Over half the existing plants are already announced to retire. And the remaining ones are having a very hard time competing with wind and solar. And so, those are decisions that are made at the state and local level. Those are decisions made by states, made by cities, that are being driven by grassroots pressure. And it is the Beyond Coal movement around this country, of over 100 organizations, that has led the charge to retire coal plants and replace them with renewable energy. And that is progress that Donald Trump can’t stop. It can’t be stopped with this dirty power plan, regardless of how it fares in the courts or in the courts of public opinion. And wherever people are around the country, they are undoubtedly connected to a coal plant or an opportunity for clean energy that could use their voice, through the Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club, and lots of other wonderful organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mary Anne Hitt, thanks for driving up from West Virginia for this conversation, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. We’ll link to your latest piece at the Sierra Club website headlined “Two Truths and a Lie: Trump Won’t Save Coal or Slow Clean Energy with Clean Power Plan Rollback.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a woman who threw her own blood and red paint on a Confederate statue. Well, folks were at it again on Monday night, and they toppled the monument honoring Confederate soldiers on the campus of UNC. We’ll speak with Maya Little. Stay with us.

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