How Much Would Trump’s Climate Rule Rollbacks Worsen Health and Emissions?

Using government data, a new analysis adds up the harm to humans and the climate from scrapping 6 greenhouse gas rules involving cars, power plants and oil and gas.

President Donald Trump speaks at a refinery in North Dakota. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A second report says the Trump administration's decision to reverse course on a broad range of climate initiatives threatens to waste taxpayer dollars, too. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration's efforts to undo rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gases would lead to a rise in annual emissions of more than 200 million metric tons by 2025 and thousands more American deaths, according to a report from New York University Law School.

The added pollution would be equivalent to 44 million more cars driven every year or the burning of enough coal to fill more than 1 million railcars, the authors wrote in "Climate and Health Showdown in the Courts."

The report, released Tuesday, homes in on six rules the administration has either tried to suspend or has announced plans to roll back, then calculates the possible damage based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. The regulations include:

  • The Clean Power Plan, which would cut emissions from electric utilities;
     
  • Clean car standards, which would boost fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from passenger vehicles;
     
  • Glider truck pollution rules, which would close a loophole used by freight-hauling trucks with super-polluting rebuilt engines;
     
  • Methane standards for new and existing oil and gas sites, which would reduce emissions of the highly potent short-lived climate pollutant;
     
  • Methane reductions on federal lands, which would reduce venting and flaring of natural gas on property leased to oil and gas companies by the Interior Department, and
     
  • Landfill methane rules, which would cut emissions from municipal waste dumps.

The report concludes, for instance, that scrapping the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with the Trump EPA's "Affordable Clean Energy Plan" could lead to 1,630 more premature deaths, more asthma attacks and missed school days, and 48,000 lost work days annually by 2030. Leaving the glider truck loophole open would allow for a steep rise in the use of vehicles whose pollution could cause at least 9,000 more early deaths annually by 2025.

The increased sickness and mortality would be the products of climate change as well as increased pollution, such as smog and particulate matter, the report said.

The Trump administration's decision to reverse course on a broad range of climate initiatives threatens to waste taxpayer dollars, too, the Government Accountability Office writes in a separate report issued Wednesday.

The federal government has long needed to do more to make U.S. communities and industries more resilient to climate change, which would reduce federal disaster spending, the congressional watchdog agency said. But since 2017, the government has made no progress on past GAO recommendations to improve resilience, and in some cases, it stripped away programs that would have helped, the GAO report said.

States Challenging the Rollbacks, and Winning

The health and emissions analysis was issued by NYU Law School's State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, a project that received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies and is led by former Obama administration officials to support litigation by progressive attorneys general against climate rule rollbacks. Its focus on the six regulations offers a panoramic view of the cumulative potential damage from the administration's changes and the rationale behind the legal challenges that the attorneys general have mounted or plan to when new rollbacks are officially announced.

"As the Trump administration continues to advance policies that will cause even greater harm to our resources and our health, it is up to state attorneys general to lead the fight to stop these policies," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a written statement.

So far, the attorneys general, led by New York, California, Massachusetts and Maryland, have been unusually successful in hobbling the progress of the rollbacks the administration has tried to make. The administration has lost 95 percent of the lawsuits brought against its deregulatory efforts, mostly on the environmental front, a far higher rate than in the past, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.

Nonetheless, the attorneys general said at a press conference on Tuesday that they do not expect the administration to slow down or discard its attacks on climate rules. The president has recently amped up his denial of climate change, including moving to organize a White House panel to push a narrative of doubt ahead of the 2020 elections.

'A War Between Science and Magical Thinking'

Two oil and gas industry methane rules—one by the EPA for new oil and gas sites and another from the Interior Department regarding methane venting on federal lands—are tied up in court. A coalition of states led by California have filed suit against the EPA over a landfill methane rollback. The EPA has announced its intention to re-open the glider truck loophole closed by the Obama administration, but it has not yet proposed a new rule.

Three of the most consequential rollbacks by the administration are about to go into effect soon, said David Hayes, director of the State Impact Center and a former deputy secretary of the Interior. They include the repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan, the freezing of auto emissions standards and the rescission of the methane cuts for existing oil and gas facilities.

"As soon as those three rules go final, they will be challenged in court," Hayes said in an email.

The oil and gas industry, electricity generation, the auto industry and waste management industry together account for almost half of the country's greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, the report said, citing EPA data. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose markedly last year after years of decline, evidence of the crumbling of federal efforts to rein in pollution under President Donald Trump.

"It's dangerous and reckless to say, 'What we need is hair of the dog. We need more of this. We need more pollution. We need to burn more fossil fuels,'" Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said at the press conference. "The president tries to cast this as an ideological war between liberals and conservatives and it's not. It's war between fact and fiction. It's a war between science and magical thinking."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center's funding. It has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email LinkedIn RSS RSS Instagram YouTube