Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Nation & World

Trump’s rollback of pollution rules to hit coal country hard

GRANT TOWN, W.Va. ó Itís coal people like miner Steve Knotts, 62, who make West Virginia Trump Country.

So it was no surprise that President Donald Trump picked the state to announce his plan rolling back Obama-era pollution controls on coal-fired power plants.

Trump left one thing out of his remarks, though: northern West Virginia coal country will be ground zero for increased deaths and illnesses from the rollback on regulation of harmful emission from the nationís coal power plants.

An analysis done by his own Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the plan would lead to a greater number of people here dying prematurely, and suffering health problems that they otherwise would not have, than elsewhere in the country, when compared to health impacts of the Obama plan.

Knotts, a coal miner for 35 years, isnít fazed when he hears that warning, a couple of days after Trumpís West Virginia rally.

"People here have had it with other people telling us what we need. We know what we need. We need a job," Knotts said at lunch hour at a Circle K in a tiny town between two coal mines, and 9 miles down the road from the Grant Town coal power plant.

The sky around Grant Town is bright blue. The mountains are a dazzling green. Paw Paw Creek gurgles past the town.

Clean-air controls since the 1980s largely turned off the columns of black soot that used to rise from coal smokestacks. The regulations slashed the national death rates from coal-fired power plants substantially.

These days, pollutants rise from smoke stacks as gases, before solidifying into fine particles ó still invisible ó small enough to pass through lungs and into bloodstreams.

An EPA analysis says those pollutants would increase under Trumpís plan, when compared to what would happen under the Obama plan. And that, it says, would lead to thousands more heart attacks, asthma problems and other illnesses that would not have occurred.

Nationally, the EPA says, 350 to 1,500 more people would die each year under Trumpís plan. But itís the northern two-thirds of West Virginia and the neighboring part of Pennsylvania that would be hit hardest, by far, according to Trumpís EPA.

Trumpís rollback would kill an extra 1.4 to 2.4 people a year for every 100,000 people in those hardest-hit areas, compared to under the Obama plan, according to the EPA analysis. For West Virginiaís 1.8 million people, that would be equal to at least a couple dozen additional deaths a year.

Trumpís acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist whose grandfather worked in the coal camps of West Virginia, headed to coal states the last couple of weeks to promote Trumpís rollback. The federal governmentís retreat on regulating pollution from coal power plants was "good news," Wheeler told crowds there.

Trumpís Affordable Clean Energy program would dismantle President Barack Obamaís 2015 Clean Power Plan, which has been caught up in court battles without yet being implemented.

With competition from natural gas and other cleaner energy helping to kill off more than a third of coal jobs over the last decade, political leaders in coal states are in no position to be the ones charged with enforcing public-health protections on surviving coal-fired power plants, said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

"Our state is beholden to coal. Our politicians are beholden to coal," Stockman said outside Trumpís West Virginia rally. "Meanwhile, our people are being poisoned."

Conrad Schneider of the environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force said the EPAís mortality estimates had taken into account existing regulation of plant emissions.

And when it comes to coal power plants and harm, Schneider said, "when youíre at Grant Town, youíre at Ground Zero."

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