President-elect Trump's plan to bring back the coal industry will likely start by scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency's climate change agenda, according to a newly appointed member of his transition team.
The agency would be dialed back to focus strictly on "genuine pollutants" that pose immediate harm to public health, and not carbon pollution blamed for causing manmade global warming, said Kathleen Hartnett-White, a member of Trump's economic advisory council, in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
"He's very much for clean air and clean water," she said. "But the better home for considering this discussion about carbon dioxide and climate is in the Department of Energy."
Over the last eight years of the Obama administration, the EPA "used the legal rubrics of the Clean Air Act really to pursue a low-carbon energy policy and really not to further environmental protection," she said.
The climate concerns "are really a discussion about energy, not really a discussion about environmental protection," she said.
She explained that regulating CO2 "is the killer for coal." So, pulling back the two principal regulations directed at the coal industry will help that resource the most, she said. "The two direct regulations for new sources and for existing sources are both direct regulations, and are also the ones that I think have constitutional problems," she said.
Both regulations are undergoing court review and are expected to go to the Supreme Court before a final decision is made on their legality. Over half the states in the country are opposing the centerpiece of the regualtions, called the Clean Power Plan, by arguing that EPA has overstepped its legal authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2.
The Supreme Court put a hold on the EPA power plan on Feb. 9 as it makes its way through a lower federal appeals court.
"Carbon dioxide has no adverse impact in the air we breath at all," Hartnett-White said. "It's a harmless trace gas that is actually an essential nutrient for plants."
The Clean Air Act "was never designed to control a pollutant that ubiquitous that has no adverse environmental impacts on people," she added.
If the government wants to address CO2, then the "U.S. Congress should be the ultimate arbiter of this," she said. "That to me is a decision that Congress makes and not experts at EPA."
She noted that Bob Murray, the CEO of Ohio-based Murray Coal, recently said "he does not envision that the entire coal industry will be back in place, but a level playing field to allow coal" to compete under a Trump administration.
She said coal companies can be clean and remain competitive by focusing on cutting criteria pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and the other 200-plus toxic air polltants. Those pollutants can be controlled with available and affordable technologies, which is not the case for carbon dioxide.
Trying to force coal plants to use technologies that aren't commercial and only halfway developed, as EPA is forcing them to do under the climate rules, is cost-prohibitive and will put them out of business, according to Hartnett-White. Even the cleanest coal plants in the country are at risk of shutting down if the Clean Power Plan is allowed to move forward, she explained.
"There is a very important role for environmental protection, but you can do so in a way that is not based on implausible worst-case scenarios and onerous, onerous regulations," Hartnett-White said.
"The entire eight years of the Obama administration, they used the legal rubrics of the Clean Air Act really to pursue a low-carbon energy policy and really not to further environmental protection," she said.
Hartnett-White was asked Friday to join the president-elect's transition team. She has already been an adviser to his campaign on energy and regulatory reform based on her experience serving on the Texas environment commission, which she notes is the largest environmental regulatory body in the world, second only to EPA.
She led a number of crucial environmental fights between Texas and EPA over the years, especially when it came to Washington trying to dictate terms on what the state should do to cut its emissions.
Although she is not certain exactly where the president-elect will come down on his policy on how to address EPA overreach, she told the Examiner that the focus will be on what is achievable under the law to guard human health.
"Two of the four of Donald Trump's economic policies, which he consistently from the very beginning of his speeches and his written statements," have focused on energy and regulations, she explained.
"There's taxes, and there's trade reform, but the other two of equal importance are the energy factor, taking great advantage of newly accessed vast energy resources, and the fourth is regulatory reform," she added.