A CNN poll last month showed President Trump with his strongest numbers yet regarding his handling of the economy, with 56 percent voicing approval. The economy is an issue Democrats have largely avoided in their concerted attacks on the president, and well they should. Growth has far exceeded the averages of the previous eight years, wages are up, manufacturing has rebounded, unemployment is at historic lows, and revenue is flowing into the treasury at a record clip.
Even President Obama acknowledges the economy’s strength, going so far as to take credit for it on multiple occasions. This has the absurdity of garlic taking credit for fresh breath. The potent economy is a direct consequence of Mr. Trump’s thorough repudiation of his predecessor’s policies, which are being overturned with the gusto of a radio station manager switching formats from NPR to heavy metal. From across the board tax cuts, to ending the individual Obamacare mandate, to ditching the Paris treaty, to cutting federal regulations on industry, Mr. Trump has produced the strongest U.S. economy in three decades precisely because he has been feeding the Obama script into the shredder.
Nowhere, however, has Mr. Trump been more determined in reversing course from Mr. Obama’s stagnant economic legacy than with energy policy, where the president has vigorously supported the expansion, exploration, extraction, refinement, production and distribution of American energy resources. Mr. Trump understands that our economic fortunes are tied to energy, and fossil fuels remain the single biggest ingredient to creating economic growth, putting Americans to work, and increasing the standard of living for consumers. His administration has from the get-go rejected Obama-era regulations that prioritized climate-change over energy production and affordability.
Today Trump EPA Director Andrew Wheeler will put the final stake in the heart of Mr. Obama’s signature environmental policy — the so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) — by announcing the adoption of the CPP’s replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), originally proposed last August.
The CPP, to put it kindly, was a disaster, taking a draconian approach to reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants that embodied Mr. Obama’s pledge to “bankrupt” coal and make energy prices “necessarily skyrocket.” Pushing an environmental agenda over an economic one, it was further embraced by Hillary Clinton in her 2016 campaign where she promised to put coal workers out of a job.
So far-reaching and outrageous were the emissions reductions mandated in the CPP that in many instances it required coal plants to adopt technology that doesn’t currently exist. The plan was severe by design, intended to load up coal plants with costly mandates, unreasonable requirements, and regulatory uncertainty to force them off line. It was a massive overreach of regulatory authority and handed sweeping powers to a crowd of environmentally agitated bureaucrats that turned the EPA into the energy police. The Supreme Court agreed, siding with 27 state attorneys general who sued the EPA for overstepping, and issued a stay in 2016.
Mr. Trump’s ACE plan is also designed to promote CO2 emission reductions in coal, but does so through a host of options contoured to the needs of each state, indeed each facility. Under ACE, the EPA establishes a “best system of emissions reduction” where suitable technologies can be applied based on what works best for each of America’s 300-plus coal producing facilities. ACE is not designed to deliver double-digit price increases in electricity to consumers as the CPP was, but to provide achievable emissions reductions that fulfill the goals of the Clean Air Act — without shoving coal into an early grave.
Coal-fired electricity has been on a steady decline in the United States over the past decade, in large part due to cheaper natural gas now available through hydraulic fracturing. But it still provides over 90 million Americans with electricity, and is a critical part of our manufacturing base and grid stability. Its fate, good or bad, should be determined by market forces, not a radical agenda from Washington. Mr. Trump’s energy plan allows coal to become more efficient as plants are modernized, while giving consumers and our economy the benefit of greater diversity in affordable energy.
The 2020 election is now in full swing and the difference between Mr. Trump and the dozens of Democratic hopefuls on the issue of energy could not be starker. Voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere who were told prior to 2016 that manufacturing jobs were not coming back, that $2.50 gas was not coming back, that 2 percent growth was the new normal, now have ample evidence that America can do better. It starts with better policies that understand economic realities and respect market forces. Mr. Trump’s ACE rule stands as yet another example of what doing better looks like.
• Gerard Scimeca is a lawyer and vice president of CASE, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy.
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