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Regardless of a person's political leanings, it's difficult to argue the Trump administration has not had a significant impact on the environment.
Here are some of the most useful things to keep in mind about the energy policies that have been rolled back this year.
1. Oil Drilling Sites Can Become More Plentiful
At the beginning of 2018, the Trump administration reversed three policies related to oil drilling.
One allows hydraulic fracking to happen on federally protected lands or waters, and another overhauls safety regulations put in place by the Obama administration in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon crisis.
Finally, there's a plan to develop more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, including areas that were previously off-limits for oil drilling.
Analysts say the reduced regulation will make parties more prone to scrutiny if they make mistakes. But, more potential for oil drilling also ramps up the potential environmental impacts, including oil spills and increased pollution.
2. The EPA May No Longer Measure the Full Health Effects of Reducing Air Pollutants From Energy Plants
In October 2018, news broke that Trump is considering rescinding a rule for how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must make decisions about the use of substances that pollute the air. Currently, the EPA measures the costs of industries complying with new standards versus the effects on public health.
When looking at the latter, it considers the positive health effects that happen by reducing pollutants other than the ones the EPA is evaluating — also known as co-benefits. For example, under the Obama administration, the agency calculated limiting the release of mercury into the air would result in a $9.6 billion benefit to public health.
However, after taking co-benefits into account, the EPA said the total positive effects to public health could be as much as $90 billion due to the way limiting mercury would also curtail soot and nitrogen oxide.
Now, if a rollback proposed in 2018 goes into effect, the Trump administration will conclude it's not appropriate to calculate co-benefits, and the EPA will loosen the previous limitations on carbon dioxide. Analysts are also worried that the move will have a domino effect and soon apply to other substances, too.
3. States Can Set Regulations for Coal-Fueled Power Plant Emissions, Which Could Hurt Health
A plan known as the Affordable Clean Energy Rule lets states set rules about greenhouse gas emissions related to coal-fueled power plants. It would replace an initiative under the Obama administration called the Clean Air Plan, which sought to prevent the premature deaths that result from coal pollution.
In contrast, a forecast shows the Affordable Clean Energy Rule could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths each year and could exacerbate respiratory ailments, especially in kids.
In light of this news, it's important to remember there are sustainable uses for power plant waste. For example, coal ash serves as a replacement for the natural materials used when producing portland cement, which gets widespread use around the world. It's essential to continue to look at sustainable options for coal waste that could positively affect the environment.
4. The Trump Administration Disbanded an Air-Quality Review Panel
A list of EPA panels that will continue their work in 2019 does not include the Particulate Matter Review Panel, which is a 20-person group of experts that work for the EPA and evaluate microscopic airborne pollutants. However, the EPA would not comment on its reasons for discontinuing the meetings of that group.
The news concerned environmental activists who said the decision represented a continual trend to become less dependent on science when making decisions about the environment. Since energy regulations often affect air quality, it's not difficult to see how this change could give more leeway to entities in the energy sector, potentially making air pollution problems worse.
5. Climate Change Progress Has Already Slowed
A team of expert scientists pored over thousands of reports and concluded there is only a 12-year window left to keep the effects of climate change at a moderate level. Failing to do that, they say, raises the risk of devastating storms, famines and other events that could put the world in crisis.
And, according to Trevor Houser, leader of the energy and climate team at The Rhodium Group, an independent research organization that analyzes global trends, only a few of the Trump administration's rollbacks will reduce the United States' climate change progress by 1 to 2 percent.
Houser calls out these factors as causing the backslide:
1. Replacing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan with something less restrictive
2. Attempts to reduce limits on methane emissions associated with oil and gas operations
3. The decision to keep vehicle fuel economy standards at 2020 levels instead of tightening them
Small Changes Have Lasting Impacts
This sobering overview shows how a small number of regulatory changes can have adverse effects on a country or the world.
That's why it's crucial for concerned citizens and people involved in local government to enact smaller, but still significant, changes for energy regulations when possible.
Staying proactive is a necessity that affects individuals as well as larger society.
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