Much has been written about how President Donald Trump’s new Affordable Clean Energy rule will lead to 1,400 premature deaths from increased pollution in our lungs.
Less has been written about the jobs impact of the new rule—a rule that acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said “supports economic growth and job creation.” There’s a reason. Expected job growth from the new rule is projected to be in the neighborhood of zero, zip, nada, and none, according to an analysis of the plan.
This jobs analysis is not the product of some mythical Birkenstock-wearing, coal-hating enviros. It’s from Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency, and it’s buried in the 289-page technical analysis that accompanied this new rule to relax clean air standards. “There may still be employment effects, negative and positive, for groups of affected workers, even if the overall net effect is small or zero,” reads chapter 5 of the EPA report. That’s not a boast, it’s an admission. As far as the EPA’s own analysis is considered, the net impact on jobs is somewhere between zero and negligible.
The motivation behind Trump’s new rule is clear: it throws a bone to one of his largest supporters, the coal industry. It is designed to do little more than save some old, dirty coal plants that are already operating, while forcing some zero-carbon nuclear plants to close early and lower-polluting natural gas plants to never open. But at what cost to the American people?
We did our own internal analysis based on the EPA’s estimates of coal generation to see how many jobs this rule will save (not create) and compared that to the negative human health impacts reported in EPA’s own analysis, including premature deaths. The results are stunning and only reinforce what a truly abysmal policy this really is.
According to EPA, this new rule will result in as much as 113 million more megawatt hours of coal generation by 2030 alone compared to the Obama rule. That equates to 55 million short tons of additional coal consumption in the United States. Based on the average productivity of U.S. coal mines in 2016, that comes out to 3,721 coal miners who would keep their jobs relative to the Obama rule. By comparison, the U.S. coal mining sector has shed 35,960 jobs since the Great Recession, or nearly 10 times that number.
Our findings, when combined with EPA’s own published findings on health impacts, show that Trump’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan will kill one person prematurely for every three coal mining jobs temporarily saved. For every one coal mining job saved, the rule will sicken 16 children, cause one case of exacerbated asthma, and lead to one lost work day due to related illness. It will cause one non-fatal heart attack and one case of acute bronchitis for roughly every eight coal mining jobs saved.
In total, the “Affordable” “Clean” Energy rule will temporarily save a few thousand coal jobs. It will add zero new jobs, because no new coal plants will be built under this plan. So the Administration is doing all this to stave off the loss of a small number of coal mining jobs at the cost of sick and dying Americans, existing nuclear plants and new, cleaner natural gas facilities. And with coal power still declining under Trump’s rule and steadily on its way out due to existing market trends, these saved jobs will not be permanent anyway. This isn’t even getting into the lost climate benefits or negative impact on clean energy technologies.
The Affordable Clean Energy rule, neither affordable nor clean, is a case study in just how far-reaching bad policy can be. This poorly devised policy forges ahead to protect the interests of Trump’s donors in lieu of the devastating impacts on human health, climate, and clean energy technologies. And it doesn’t create new jobs.
The bottom line is that even the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Rule was not going to result in the emissions reductions we need in order to fight climate change. But it was a start. Standing still is heading in the wrong direction. The Trump Administration had an opportunity to ask what is the next, more ambitious successor to the Clean Power Plan, and it failed. Instead, we should be creating modern, progressive, and community-oriented policies that allow the U.S. to harness a diverse range of carbon-free technologies. There are some things worth dying for, but this new rule written for coal interests isn’t one of them.
Lindsey Walter is a policy adviser and Josh Freed is vice president of the clean energy program at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C.