Americans can have a growing economy and a cleaner environment. The two are not mutually exclusive.
That’s the key takeaway from President Trump’s July 8 speech on American environmental leadership.
Since the Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970, the combined emissions of the most common air pollutants have fallen by three-quarters while the economy almost quadrupled. Progress continues with lead exposure falling 12%, and sulphur dioxide down 22% since 2016. Also, the United States is tied for first in the world for access to clean drinking water. This year the EPA will complete the cleanup of 22 Superfund sites, the most since 2005, and over 1 million acres have been added to wildlands protection.
Most Americans now enjoy air quality and drinking water quality that meets all the standards, but more progress is needed and the president has ordered the EPA to continue to work on targeted solutions for the remaining non-compliance areas. For example, Delaware easily meets air quality standards for six of seven common pollutants. However, in 2017 ground level ozone exceeded standards about 1% of the time in New Castle County.
Most ozone occurs naturally, so even small excursions can lead to high exposure. Two- thirds of man-made ozone precursors come from motor vehicles, and a small percent comes from upwind power plants. Tougher tailpipe emission standards are in place, but it takes 15 years to change out the fleet of older cars, and pollutants from that source are falling about 6% a year. The EPA negotiated changes in upwind power plants, and over the last two years precursor emissions have fallen by two-thirds.
New Castle County would have met the ozone standard in 2018 except for four days of high smoke levels from Western forest fires. The president has ordered the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to improve forest management on federal lands. Some blame the wildfires on climate change leading to more intense droughts, however, even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has “low confidence” any such connections exist between droughts and manmade global warming.
The United States is leading the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. Energy Information Agency expects emissions to have fallen 15% from the 2005 high by 2020 returning to the level emitted in 1990. The economy has doubled since 1990. That is twice the reduction rate of the Euro Zone countries.
Some Trump critics are suggesting we need to go to zero emissions. If the U.S. went to zero emissions, global temperatures might fall 0.1°C in the year 2100, an amount too small to measure accurately. Wood Mackenzie, a research group respected by renewable energy advocates, just estimated the cost of going to 100% renewable energy for the electric industry. The study estimates electricity rates would more than double. For a Delmarva Power residential customer, electric rates would rise about $2,000 a year, an unreasonable price for a very small gain.
A major cost driver in the study was the high cost of batteries to store electricity for when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow. Former Vice President Joe Biden suggests his energy plan would encourage government research efforts to develop a battery 90% cheaper than current batteries, an innovation that has eluded researchers for the last century. President Trump ordered the Department of Energy to pursue those same objectives his first month in office. It looks like the first innovative technology out of the gate over the next five years will be advanced nuclear power.
Finally, critics have suggested the president’s efforts to reduce regulation are a barrier to an improved environment. To the contrary, deregulation is throwing out sometimes illegal, expensive regulations that offer few benefits, in exchange for effective regulations.
For example, President Obama wrote an executive order to the EPA to write the Clean Power Plan (CPP). This was a response when he could not convince his own party to pass a national carbon tax. The CPP would have forced states to adopt carbon dioxide cap-and-trade programs for power plants as the easiest way to comply. The EPA used the Clean Air Act to justify the CPP and ignored part of Administrative Procedure Act to rush implementation. In a rare action, the Supreme Court intervened before lower courts ruled to put a stay on the CPP.
The Trump plan is working to improve the environment and to support a robust economy that has added millions of jobs and is raising incomes. Doomsday messages about an environmental disaster are simply not true. The president has found the proper balance between environmental gains and the cost to achieve those gains.
David T. Stevenson of Lewes is policy director for the Caesar Rodney Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]