U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order titled "Energy Independence" during a March 28 event at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington. The order eliminates Obama-era climate change regulations and calls for a review of President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

Catholic advocates critical of Trump's order to review Clean Power Plan

By  Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
  • March 29, 2017

WASHINGTON – Catholic environmental advocates decried President Donald Trump's executive order that would begin a review of his predecessor's Clean Power Plan, which set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The advocates said that reversing any effort that reduces greenhouse gas pollution endangers the planet and puts the world's most vulnerable people at risk because of climate change.

Citing the efforts by Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, St. John Paul II and the U.S. bishops to address the importance of protecting the environment, Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said Trump's action "neither protects our common home nor promotes the common good."

"The administration claims that these new orders will create jobs and grow the economy," Misleh said in a statement March 28, the day Trump signed the order. "The fact is, however, that those who work in energy conservation and renewable energy are already experiencing an economic boom."

Misleh also called for bipartisan cooperation to reach solutions to climate change.

Trump, flanked by coal miners, signed the order, titled "Energy Independence." In his remarks at the EPA, the president said the country will still have clean water and clean air, but his order seeks to eliminate what he said are too many job-killing regulations.

The president said his goal was to drive energy independence and bring back coal-mining and manufacturing jobs while reducing the cost of electricity.

According to Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, Trump's order indicates the administration "does not care about climate change" or protecting people of colour and low-income and indigenous communities that are most likely to experience the effects of pollution.

"By cutting the Clean Power Plan, the administration is demonstrating that corporate polluters are more important than the health and prosperity of our common home," Carolan said in a statement.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, episcopal liaison to the Catholic Climate Covenant, did not refer specifically to the executive order during a March 28 conference call – introduced as " President Trump's Dirty Energy Executive Order Conference Call" – that was held shortly before Trump's executive order was issued.

But he cited three effects of climate change: the increasingly intense weather events that "we believe are an assault on God's creation" and which affect the world's poor more drastically than others; the support the U.S. bishops, as well as Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, have given, in a letter to Congress, of the Clean Power Plan, vehicle fuel economy standards, the Green Climate Fund and the Paris climate agreement; and a growth in jobs from alternative energy efforts.

"Pope Francis could not be more strong on jobs," said Bishop Pates, who referred to the pope's 2015 encyclical Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."

"He believes that providing work is a moral imperative of every economy." In Iowa, he added, 35 percent of the state's energy comes from wind or solar power, and has created 17,300 jobs, and has been cited by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, as having been a source for "good, high-paying jobs, helping families grow."

Bishop Pates said the bishops and their allies would "work closely" with the White House, Congress and "everybody who's involved with this."

Others on the conference call with the bishop described other effects of the Trump order.

"The American Lung Association and its partners from coast to coast will push back," said Lyndsay Moseley Alexander, assistant vice president and director of its Healthy Air Campaign, citing the projected loss of 300,000 school and work days a year to 2030, and an estimated 3,600 "lives ended prematurely," if the Clean Power Plan is scuttled.

The executive order also would have deleterious effects on the military, according to Stephen Cheney, a retired Marine brigadier general who is CEO of the American Security Project. "On the domestic side, it certainly threatens our coastal military bases with sea-level rise, and increases the risk to our soldiers, sailors, Air Force and Marines," he said. Internationally, he added, "it also acts as a threat multiplier all over the world."

Shannon Baker-Branstetter, energy and environment policy counsel for Consumers Union, said the goal of short-term gain risks the Clean Power Plan's long-term benefits, pointing to an estimated $150 a year in annual savings per household on utility bills by 2030. Medical saving costs also would result from cleaner power, Baker-Branstetter added.

Reverting to old ways means a higher likelihood of weather-related crop failures, meaning higher food costs and insurance premiums. "They shift the cost away from polluting entities and onto families," she said. Baker-Branstetter also voiced concern that the executive order could " prohibit the government from quantifying the impact" of the changes ordered by Trump.

Gina McCarthy, a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School and former EPA administrator, charged in a statement that the Trump administration wants "us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future."

"This is not just dangerous; it's embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth and U.S. leadership," said McCarthy, who is Catholic.

Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president, supported Trump's action to "make regulatory relief and energy security a top priority."

"These executive actions are a welcome departure from the previous administration's strategy of making energy more expensive through costly, job-killing regulations that choked our economy," he said in a statement released late March 27.

Beyond the Clean Power Plan, Trump's order prioritizes the development of domestic coal, oil and natural gas reserves over renewable energy sources and opens federal land to coal leases. The president's blueprint calls for dismantling many of the environmental initiatives of President Barack Obama that were meant to address what the vast majority of scientists have concluded is human-caused climate change.

The Trump administration has maintained that there can be a balance between the need for jobs and economic growth and protecting the environment.

Coal usage for electrical power generation has seen a decline in recent years as utility companies converted plants from coal to less costly natural gas during the past decade.

While Trump has ordered a review of the Obama's signature plan, it has been on hold, however, as a federal appeals court weighs a legal challenge from 27 states and 100 companies. The plan was Obama's primary tool to meet the country's emissions reductions goals under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the nation's largest privately held coal company urged Trump to "temper his expectations" about mining industry jobs making a comeback.

Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, told The Guardian newspaper March 27 that he supported the review of the Clean Power Plan, but that it was market forces, rather than government regulations, that largely affect employment in the U.S. coal industry.

Critics have described the Obama-era plan as an overreach by the EPA that exceeds the original intent of the Clean Air Act. Supporters have said the plan would lead to thousands of clean energy jobs, reduce illnesses caused by air pollution and slow climate change.

The plan called for reducing power plant emissions by 2030 by about 32 percent from 2005 levels. It set targets for each state to reach. Coal-fired power plants are the nation's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA introduced the Clean Power Plan in August 2015, 26 months after Obama outlined general principles for tighter limits on power plant emissions in a speech at Georgetown University. He also stressed then the importance of meeting the country's growing electrical demand through renewable energy sources and called for efficiency upgrades to the country's electrical grid.

The Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, said Trump's action "sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the world that the United States is reneging on its pledge to cut carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2025, putting the historic Paris agreement – and the well-being of people and planet – in jeopardy."

The Paris climate agreement has been ratified by 134 of the 197 countries that approved it in December 2015 under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. President Barack Obama ratified the agreement on his own, bypassing the U.S. Senate. The agreement went into force last October after enough countries ratified it.

The Dominicans' statement said Trump's order "will not put all coal miners to work (because) most mining is increasingly mechanized."

"It will give a green light to planet-warming carbon pollution, threatening to relegate our children to an irreversible future of extreme weather events, droughts, floods, and untold billions in costs to adapt to these harmful impacts," it said.

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