Downwind and vulnerable

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Downwind is the place to be if you’re a hunter or being hunted.

But it’s the place to avoid when there’s a fire or noxious fumes. Rhode Island is downwind from the Midwest, and what is released into the atmosphere from the rust belt is the air we breathe. The Clean Air Act, as well as the shift of jobs from this country and the closure of many manufacturing operations, has contributed to cleaner air. Has it resulted in improved health? That’s hard to say conclusively, because our health is the result of so many factors, including the food we eat, the amount of exercise we engage in and other environmental effects.

We do, however, know that clean air is important to good health. That’s why we applaud the efforts of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and a coalition of local and state leaders from across the country to save the Clean Power Plan from the Trump chopping block. The plan calls for the reduction in power-plant emissions. That can be achieved through renewable energy sources and the use of natural gas to fire energy generating plants and revisions to coal and fuel oil plants.

President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t yet put the plan, adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the cross-hairs for elimination, and conceivably the effort to clean up the emissions from power plants will be implemented, although it is being challenged in the courts. Yet Trump’s support of the coal industry and the backing he received from coal states supports the supposition that he will work to relax environmental regulations that discourage the use of coal.

Trump’s choice for EPA director – Oklahoma Attorney Scott Pruitt – has brought suit against the Clean Power Plan. This doesn’t look good for us.

In a letter to Trump, the coalition argues their states – Rhode Island among them – are on the “front lines of climate change” and will be the first to feel the “human and economic costs inflicted by unchecked carbon pollution.”

In Rhode Island we are seeing the impacts of clean and cleaner generation of energy. The nation’s first deep water wind farm is operational and approvals have been granted for a number of solar farms in Warwick, Cranston and Johnston. The Brayton Point coal-fired plant in Fall River, one of the region’s largest generating facilities, is scheduled to close this June. Meanwhile, cleaner natural gas plants are generating more than half of the electricity used by Rhode Islanders.

States opposed to the Clean Power Plan reason they should have the right to decide their energy mix. That seems sensible but, as Rhode Island knows from its downwind position, actions far from our borders can have profound impacts on our lives. President-elect Trump may feel the coal states and the industry leaders who would benefit from scuttling the Clean Power Plan are deserving of a payback.

We would point out that blue Rhode Island is not alone in being downwind of carbon emissions and that, in fact, neither is the rest of the world.

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