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Ruth: Easing coal plant rules at a cost of only 1,400 lives a year

Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Monday 27 August 2018 08.11

These are odd times in Washington. Convictions, plea deals and immunity agreements have become as common as the capitalís humidity. In between bites of his cheeseburger, a petulant tweeting president canít bear to even mention the name John McCain. And trysts with porn stars and Playboy models seem to attract more attention than tariffs.

Perhaps that makes sense.

But gone largely unnoticed amid the scandals, the cyber feuds and perp walks was this minor tidbit ó the government also wants to kill you.

Thought you might like to know.

Your federal government has proposed new rules by the dubiously named Environmental Protection Agency that would erode clean air regulations. The EPAís push to pull back from Obama-era policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions and promoting alternative energy resources such as wind and solar would allow states to set their own pollution standards and permit coal-burning power plants to remain online.

Now you might conclude this is merely a dry, chin-rubbing public policy difference between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. But by the Trump administrationís own calculations, the new EPA carbon emission standards could result in as many as 1,400 deaths a year by 2030.

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The 1,400 sacrifices on the altar of the coal industry would be the result of increased rates of microscopic, dangerous particulates known as PM 2.5, which are linked to heart and lung disease and exacerbate chronic health problems such as asthma and bronchitis. Other than that, itís a wonderful substance.

In almost any other time in the nationís history, if an administration announced something along the lines of: "Hereís a swell idea. Weíre going to cavalierly approve new rules that will result in 1,400 funerals a year on our watch just to appease the coal lobby," the outrage would be deafening.

The EPAís decision to gut the Obama carbon emission standards should hardly come as a shock. After all, the agency is stocked with former energy industry factotums, including William Wehrum, who, before he became the EPAís assistant administrator for air and radiation (stop laughing), was a top Washington coal industry lawyer who frequently sued the very agency he now serves.

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Thereís also Andrew Wheeler, another coal lobbyist, who now is the EPAís administrator. So you could be forgiven in suspecting it is only a matter of time before the EPA approves nuclear power plants in Yellowstone National Park.

The public can be easily distracted by the shiny objects of mistresses, grand juries and Oval Office hissy fits, which are certainly more entertaining than belching smokestacks.

Still, the optics of a government agency charged with protecting the environment using its powers to blithely put life and limb at risk to cater to a dying industry seems a tad off-putting ó at least to people who like to breathe.

The EPA is hardly alone as a Washington agency that regards the citizenry as an annoying inconvenience.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos voided Obama administration safeguards to protect victims of for-profit colleges, which were required to demonstrate students would be ready for good-paying jobs. On Obamaís watch, schools that failed to maintain even that modest standard would have their federal funding revoked.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Trump has seen a rollback of consumer protections and is considering easing regulations governing payday lenders.

Are you getting the impression that in Washington it is becoming ever more difficult to see the swamp for all the algae?

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