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Trump’s EPA Signs 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement

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Trump’s EPA Signs 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs his replacement for the Clean Power Plan. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Former coal lobbyist and Trump-appointed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a rule Wednesday that officially replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a new regulation that Wheeler said could lead to the opening of more coal plants, the Associated Press reported.



While the Obama administration plan would have established national limits on greenhouse gas emissions and mandated utilities move away from coal, the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy Rule allows states to decide whether and how much to reduce emissions, The New York Times explained.

"I don't know who is going to invest in a new coal fired power plant, but we're leveling the playing field to allow that investment to occur," Wheeler said, as The New York Times reported.

The announcement was roundly criticized by environmental groups, and the attorneys general of California, Oregon, Washington State, Iowa, Colorado and New York all vowed to sue to stop it. Opponents say the plan does not do enough to reduce emissions at a time of growing climate crisis and puts more Americans at risk from air pollution.

The new rule would reduce electricity emissions by less than half of what experts say is needed to stop global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius, The Washington Post reported. And the EPA's own initial estimate found the new rule would lead to between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030 due to increased particulate matter pollution. The new rule also comes as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions began to rise again in 2018 after a three-year decline, according to The New York Times. It was also signed a day after the Associated Press reported that U.S. progress on air pollution has stalled.

"This deadly rule rejects science in a groveling effort to satisfy the fossil fuel lobby," Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Clare Lakewood said in a statement to EcoWatch. "Trump's EPA is hell-bent on propping up coal at the expense of human health, the survival of endangered species and a livable climate. But we're confident this attack on our lungs and our planet won't survive in the courts."

However, some legal experts told The New York Times there is a danger in suing to stop the rule. The Obama administration's plan assumed that the EPA had the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on the national level, while the Trump administration plan argues it can only regulate environmental violations at individual plants. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration plan and interpretation, it could restrict what future presidents are able to do to fight climate change under existing law.

"It could foreclose a new administration from doing something more ambitious," Harvard University environmental law professor and Obama administration legal counsel Jody Freeman told The New York Times.

The Clean Power Plan itself was suspended by the Supreme Court after it was challenged by hundreds of companies and 28 states.

Bracewell LLP partner Jeff Holmstead, who led the EPA's air office under President George W. Bush, recommended pushing Congress to pass climate legislation.

"If Trump isn't reelected and the next president makes climate change a priority, I think there's a good chance that we'll see a climate change bill enacted into law, even if Republicans control both houses of Congress," Holmstead told The Washington Post.

Some argued that the electricity sector is shifting away from coal despite the administration's attempts to boost the power source.

Beyond Carbon, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's new initiative to shut down all U.S. coal plants by 2030, acknowledged the damage that could be done by the Trump administration's plan while also arguing that it could not stop the national shift away from fossil fuels. Campaign manager Brynne Craig explained in a statement to EcoWatch:

"Each passing month brings new evidence of the climate crisis and the Trump Administration continues to demonstrate its contempt for science and its subversion of fact-based environmental policies. By scrapping the Clean Power Plan, our country's first ever attempt to cut carbon pollution at the national level, President Trump has weakened climate and air pollution standards and threatened the health and safety of Americans.

"Yet the Trump Administration's attempts to revive obsolete industries like coal have proven futile: since he has taken office, over 50 coal plants have closed, putting us over halfway to retiring the U.S. coal fleet and showing the undeniable momentum among U.S. markets, organizations, and communities in moving off of dirty, deadly, and costly fossil fuels. American cities, states, and businesses are also inspiring great hope with their work to combat the climate crisis, regardless of the federal government. Beyond Carbon will accelerate these efforts and further the country's transition toward a clean energy future."

DTE Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson told The Washington Post the plan would not change his pledge to cut emissions 80 percent by 2040 and close 14 of 18 coal plants by 2030.

"The industry's in motion, and it's got its own life," Anderson told The Washington Post. "We're moving on, and the rest of the industry is in a similar direction."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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