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Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.


"We're ending intrusive EPA regulations that kill jobs," Trump said in a White House statement.

Wheeler said in a press release, "Today's proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump's goal of energy dominance."

But in a damning report from The New York Times, the proposal's own fine print states, "implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health."

The proposal even has a section called "foregone" climate and human health benefits, according to the Times, and projects 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased rates of PM 2.5, which are microscopic toxins from power plants, automobiles and other sources that can cause lung and heart disease.

In contrast, as the Times pointed out, the Clean Power Plan was squarely designed at protecting the climate and human health. In 2015, the Obama EPA estimated that their plan could avoid between 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030.

"This proposal would eliminate almost all the life-saving climate and health benefits that the Clean Power Plan provides. The Trump-Wheeler plan will mean millions of tons more air pollution endangering our kids' health, lives and future," said Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp in a statement.

Environmentalists also said the Affordable Clean Energy Rule will not survive in court.

"Trump is doubling down on our dirtiest power sources and it's going to send polar bears, ice seals and other wildlife over the edge of extinction. But like most of his environmental rollbacks, this proposal mangles the facts, the law and the science, and won't survive in court," said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.

Similarly, Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, dubbed the proposal as the "Dirty Power Plan" and said the organization will fight the proposal "with every tool available."

"What America needs instead is an even stronger Clean Power Plan, one that will further accelerate the nation's shift to clean energy—that's how to truly protect public health, our children and future generations," she added.

The new measure, which President Trump will likely tout today at his rally in West Virginia, will be subject to a 60-day comment period.

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The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.