Absolute power corrupts absolutely — a coin of phrase that seems especially relevant as President Donald Trump dismantles years of environmental progress for the sake of coal mining jobs and fulfilling his campaign promises. On Tuesday, March 28, the billionaire businessman turned leader of the free world signed an executive order that halted the derailing of high carbon emission energy sources in favor of sustainable clean air energy of wind and solar. This order effectively changed the stance of the United States — the second-highest CO2 emission polluter in the world — as cooperative with other industrial nations in slowing down climate change to, essentially, denying climate change exists.
While the president didn’t go so far as to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change accord, his coal mining order did cause a major ruckus worldwide, including China, the No. 1 CO2 emission polluter, vowing to keep its promises to drastically reduce emissions and Exxon Mobil urging the president to keep the U.S. signed to the Paris agreement. The goal of the Paris deal made with 200 countries is to keep the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees, which would at that point practically guarantee a tumultuous future of severe droughts, floods, rising sea levels and food shortages.
While this move by POTUS was not a surprise, it was still a stunning display of blatant disregard for much-needed focus on environmental and human preservation. Former President Barack Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan had its own set of legal challenges. The Plan, which would have led to the shutdown of coal-burning plants as well any new construction, had been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2016 until the various legal issues brought by power companies, labor unions, etc., had worked their way through the courts. Regardless of these issues, humanity has a lot at stake to turn the clock black and willfully ignore the science that has proven we are on a destructive path with dirty energy.
With the signing of one document, Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw and rewrite the Clean Power Plan. Trump’s view of the executive order directed at coal miners: “C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You’re going back to work.” But what is the cost to humanity to save these jobs? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants:
Emit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming. In 2011, utility coal plants in the United States emitted a total of 1.7 billion tons of CO2. A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year.
Emit sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, which damages crops, forests and soils and acidifies lakes and streams.
Emit nitrogen oxides, which cause ground-level ozone, or smog, which can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases.
Emit particulate matter, which causes chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility.
Emit mercury, which causes brain damage and heart problems.
And those are just a handful of the primary issues of concern.
In California we are fortunate to live in a buffer zone where the environment and quality of life — such as clean air to breathe and clean water to drink — take precedence over jobs. But we are fortunate in other ways as well. Not only do we not have a relevant coal mining industry, but we also have only one coal-burning plant in the state. Further, Californians have learned some powerful lessons from our dependence on high pollution energy sources, from oil spills in the ocean, high rates of asthma, an extended drought that appears to have been connected to global warming to high gas prices that hold the economy hostage. Sustainable energy is not only the way of the future, but there will surely be jobs in that industry — if only the president would sign an executive order that would allocate resources to retraining and relocating energy workers. Thankfully, the governors of California and New York this week declared their commitments to move forward with aggressive climate change policies.
At some point, technology and human preservation will naturally change the course of the workforce. While we may see this executive order as somewhat of a catastrophe to turn back the dial to move forward with dirty air energy, the dire health impacts and loss of our natural resources can only go on for so long. We hope whoever is ramping up for election races in 2018 and 2020 will properly strategize how to change the energy course and reassure the blue color workforce that there are plans to ensure their livelihoods that do not include detrimental side effects.
Now is not the time to remain silent. Let your legislators know your thoughts. For a full list of your representatives and their contact information, click here.