President Trump’s effort to prop up the coal industry will not, over the long run, succeed – the energy market will make sure of that. But it could impede America’s progress toward stabilizing the climate, and it will certainly harm public health.

Burning coal, after all, releases into the air not only carbon dioxide but also mercury, which makes its way into rivers and streams, where it’s eaten by fish and, in turn, by people – poisoning brains and nervous systems, especially those of developing fetuses.

And then there’s sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, any number of other volatile compounds and particles of metal and chemicals. Aloft, this mess combines with sunlight to form smog. Over 7,500 Americans die from breathing it every year.

The Clean Power Plan – an initiative of former President Obama, and the principal target of Trump’s efforts – would have prevented as many as 3,600 premature deaths a year by 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That plan is now tied up in litigation, but Trump proposes to do away with it altogether.

It’s not clear that he can, because it will require making a reasonable argument for why the EPA should suddenly stop regulating greenhouse gases. But it’s a bad idea even to try.

Coal power is already dying of other causes, including its failure lately to stay competitive with natural gas and even wind and solar power.

Trump may be able to slow coal’s slide. But he can’t return it to its former status as America’s main power source. And, because of increasing automation, he won’t save coal-mining jobs. Even judged by the claims Trump makes for it, this policy is poised to accomplish nothing at all.


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