Health risks to power plant regulation rollback

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at increased pollution's negative impacts to public health and examines the benefits of the Obama-era clean power plan that President Trump's administration is set to roll back.

Posted: Aug 22, 2018 1:18 AM
Updated: Aug 22, 2018 1:23 AM

The Trump administration's latest efforts to undo more of Barack Obama's efforts to slow climate change come as no surprise. Nothing gets this President more excited than trying to undo his predecessor's legacy.

But his proposed new EPA rules -- tagged with the laughable misnomer the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule -- are not just vindictive, they are dangerous. The administration wants to allow coal-burning power plants to emit more deadly carbon and to give states greater leeway to allow big-money companies to pollute. The new rules would replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

The proposal reflects a longstanding and fundamentally damaging idea in right-wing politics: That climate change is a matter of opinion, not fact, and that people who have no interest in the facts still deserve to hold political office.

The deluded perspective is not confined to America's Republican Party. Conservatives in Australia have also latched on to the theory that climate change is debatable, and that efforts to fight it are a liberal conspiracy against big business.

The GOP has long been in the pocket of polluters, who have made clear that they are quite comfortable destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren in return for getting rich now. The party has helped to make this denialism politically feasible by systematically undermining the public education system and refusing the validity of scientific inquiry. Do they believe in evolution yet?

That the new Trump rules will cost thousands of lives -- 1,400 every year by the EPA's own admission -- doesn't seem to matter to this President and his GOP enablers, who put corporate profits first, ahead of citizens' health. In this, they are joined by a base that seems willing to accept any lie, indignity or even undermining of health and life.

It's a sad state of affairs -- but also a real and growing threat to a country experiencing wild weather mood swings, the largest wildfires in recorded history, floods, droughts and on and on.

In any reasonable universe, those who deny basic scientific facts that connect this grim reality to humans' role in global warming would be deemed unfit to hold office. Imagine a congressman who questioned whether gravity was real, or a senator who insisted the earth was flat. We would rightly say that they're intellectually deficient, and that their bizarre theories mean they probably shouldn't be making vital decisions that affect millions of Americans (not to mention billions more people around the world).

But somehow climate change falls in a different category (along with, among a majority of evangelical protestants, for example, a disbelief in evolution).

It's one thing to be ignorant -- and, to be sure, many non-climate-change-denying Americans don't understand the basics of climate change either. But most Americans also don't understand the details of how a bill becomes law, how our court system works, or how the national budget gets set -- all things we expect of our nationally elected officials.

Politicians should similarly be expected to understand the basic science of climate change, and to listen to the scientific experts instead of seeking out the few outliers who confirm their own half-baked beliefs.

Of course, Trump has appointed a series of cronies and amateurs to his cabinet, and he himself holds the highest office in the land, with zero previous experience for the job, zero intellectual curiosity, and zero ability to train his attention on just about anything other than Twitter and Fox News.

His presidency makes full mockery of the theory that those in charge should know anything at all. And with this latest green light to polluters and contaminators, all of us are again paying the price for that unapologetic greed and ignorance.

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