Attacks on Clean Energy are Attacks on Our Health
NRDC Expert Blog by Juanita Constible
President Trump and his polluter allies are engaged in a campaign to destroy public health protections. The administration is systematically throwing commonsense safeguards out the window by delaying, weakening, or undoing standards that protect people against everything from toxic chemicals, to water pollution from power plants, to air pollution from oil and gas operations. Now, the Department of Energy has put out a flawed study intended to prop up dirty fuels at the expense of cleaner alternatives.
Many of the safeguards under attack are relatively new, meaning they’re just starting to generate benefits for everyday Americans. Not so for clean energy policies and programs, which have been protecting our health for years.
A new analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that utility-scale solar and wind energy generation in the contiguous United States prevented up to 12,700 early deaths from 2007 to 2015, and contributed to as much as $112.8 billion in air quality benefits. That’s because the expansion of clean sources of electricity reduced the power sector’s emissions of:
- Carbon dioxide, the leading contributor to climate change, by 20 percent;
- Sulfur dioxide, one of the building blocks of unhealthy smog, by 72 percent; and
- Small particle pollution (PM2.5), which can become embedded in our hearts and lungs, by 46 percent.
The Upper Midwest and Mid-Atlantic reaped more benefits from wind and solar energy than other regions of the country because they started with more coal-fired power plants in 2007.
So it’s disheartening to hear the president continually peddle the myth of “clean coal” when clean energy has such clear health benefits—not to mention the potential to create jobs and empower local economies. Instead of boosting these benefits, the administration and Congress are handing coal and oil executives the keys to our future. Take proposed budget cuts to the Department of Energy, for instance, which would gut the agency’s staffing and research budgets that support clean energy innovation. Or the Department of Interior’s stop-work order to the National Academies of Sciences committee trying to understand the health effects of surface coal mining.
Federal support is an important driver of clean energy in the United States, but thankfully, it’s not the only one. Wind and solar are getting cheaper, for example, making them more attractive to investors and electric utilities. And all across the country, cities and states are strengthening existing limits on pollution from power plants, making plans to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and forging bipartisan agreements to promote a cleaner energy future.
Building on these successes could be a sweet deal for Congress, President Trump, and especially coal-heavy states. Instead of continuing to prop up the struggling energy industries of the past and pushing through deeply unpopular budget cuts to clean energy programs, our leaders should invest in a healthier nation and new job opportunities for everyone.
Now that would be a breath of fresh air.
Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs.
About the Author
Special Projects Director, Climate & Clean Air program
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