Conn. residents deserve to be heard as EPA seeks to roll back Clean Power Plan

In recent years, Connecticut has taken real and concrete steps to protect our environment and combat climate change. With the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act, we set ambitious goals to curtail greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and because of steadfast efforts within state government, we met and exceeded those goals eight years early. Between 2011 and 2017, we reduced air pollution from major facilities by 23 percent. And we have preserved and protected our state’s open spaces and natural resources. In short, we have done our part to reduce pollution and protect the health of our residents.

However, Connecticut, like much of the northeast, is a downwind state. Meaning that emissions from our south and west are carried into our state by prevailing winds, contaminating the air our children and families breathe. In other words, regardless of our own efforts, we are forced to breathe toxic pollution from dirty coal power plants in the Midwestern and Southern United States.

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The Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan will only make that problem worse for Connecticut and our neighbors by reversing commonsense standards that would compel coal and natural gas power plants to reduce emissions by an estimated 32 percent by 2030. Energy production is the nation’s second leading source of carbon emissions, behind only the transportation sector, and loosening protections will only serve to hurt residents of downwind states. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own estimates show that as many as 1,400 people will die prematurely every year because of the increased pollution caused by this backwards rule.

Incredibly – and despite the profound, negative effects – the EPA opted to hold just one public hearing on its proposal to gut the Clean Power Plan, which was held on Monday in Chicago.

In contrast, when the Clean Power Plan was introduced by the Obama administration, the EPA held four two-day hearings throughout the country. This was after extensive listening sessions and outreach in both coal country and downwind states.

To be fair, the EPA has done some outreach on the rollback, which they have titled the “ACE rule” – in states where coal has been a staple for power generation. “Today, EPA brought the good news to the Bluegrass State,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in touting the rollbacks in Kentucky. In Ohio, he stressed the value of outreach, according to an EPA press release, “hearing directly from Ohioans and their elected officials is essential to EPA’s efforts to work closely with the Buckeye State.” I know of no such outreach in states set to bear the brunt of increased emissions.

But let’s be very clear. One rushed hearing is completely inadequate when the safety, health and welfare of our residents is at stake.

Our poorer, older and younger citizens and those in environmental justice communities who are most affected by climate change and air pollution – most often people of color – likely did not catch a flight to Chicago to testify Monday, but their voices must still be heard. That’s why I sent a letter imploring Mr. Wheeler to hear directly from the Constitution State by scheduling an additional hearing in our region of the country.

Climate change is already endangering the health and safety of our residents. A detailed study of sea level in Long Island Sound predicts nearly two feet of sea level rise in the next three decades, turning routine coastal storms into deadly catastrophes and directly threatening our coastal communities.

The voices of our children, elders, low income citizens and people of color — and everyone who breathes air tainted by upwind coal plants — should be just as important to the EPA as the voices of those who profit from coal extraction.

So much for the “protection” component of EPA’s moniker and mandate.

Malloy, a Democrat, has served as governor of Connecticut since 2011.