Trump rollbacks for fossil fuel industries carry steep cost

  •  environmental and safety rules
- Associated Press, BILLINGS

Jan 29, 2019-

As the Trump administration rolls back environmental and safety rules for the energy sector, government projections show billions of dollars in savings reaped by companies will come at a steep cost: more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, a jump in climate-warming emissions and more severe derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

The Associated Press analyzed 11 major rules targeted for repeal or relaxation under Trump, using the administration’s own estimates to tally how its actions would boost businesses and harm society.

The AP identified up to $11.6 billion in potential future savings for companies that extract, burn and transport fossil fuels. Industry windfalls of billions of dollars more could come from a freeze in vehicle efficiency standards that will yield an estimated 79 billion-gallon (300 million-liter) increase in fuel consumption.

On the opposite side of the government’s ledger, buried in thousands of pages of analyses, are the “social costs” of rolling back the regulations. Among them:

lUp to 1,400 additional premature deaths annually due to the pending repeal of a rule to cut coal plant pollution.

lAn increase in greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 billion tons (907 million metric tons) from vehicles produced over the next decade—a figure equivalent to annual emissions of almost 200 million vehicles.

lIncreased risk of water contamination from a drilling technique known as “fracking.”

lFewer safety checks to prevent offshore oil spills. For the Trump administration and its supporters, the rule changes examined by AP mark a much-needed pivot away from heavy regulations that threatened to hold back the Republican president’s goal of increasing US energy production. But the AP’s findings also underscore the administration’s willingness to put company profits ahead of safety considerations and pollution effects. The AP found the administration has sought to bolster the changes by emphasizing, and sometimes exaggerating, economic gains while minimizing negative impacts.

For example, when calculating future damages from greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants, the Trump administration looked only at US effects, instead of globally. That drastically reduced the benefits of emission restrictions and allowed the administration to conclude the Obama-era rule was no longer justified, given costs to the coal industry. In another instance, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to stop considering secondary benefits of controlling mercury emissions—namely reductions in other pollutants projected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths.

Last month, the AP revealed that the administration understated the advantages of installing better brakes on trains carrying crude oil and ethanol. 

Transportation Department officials acknowledged they miscalculated potential benefits by up to $117 million because they failed to include some projected future derailments.

In explaining its actions, the Trump administration said in some cases that the previous administration understated the price tag on new industry restrictions. In others, it said President Barack Obama’s administration had been overly expansive in how it defined benefits to society.

Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago professor who served as chief economist for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the Trump administration was downplaying the health and environmental impacts of its actions.

“When you start fudging the numbers, it’s not that the costs just evaporate into thin air. We will pay,” Greenstone said. “They are reducing the costs for industries where pollution is a byproduct.”

The rules being targeted were largely crafted under Obama in response to climate change, the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, massive releases from coal ash dumps and fuel train explosions. Trump’s administration has stressed that savings for companies were greater than any increased perils to safety or the environment.

“We fully recognize every significant policy decision has a consequence and that those consequences can differ,” acting US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the AP.

Published: 29-01-2019 09:40

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