Health care is once again shaping up to be a defining issue for the midterm elections, and it's especially true if you live in a coal state.
The Trump administration recently proposed the Affordable Clean Energy Rule to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new measure will allow states to determine their own rules for coal-fired power plants, which is expected to lead to more deregulation and increased greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that would lead to between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually.
"If I handed you a glass of water containing arsenic, you could probably have me arrested for attempted murder," said Barbara Gottlieb, director of environment & health at Physicians for Social Responsibility. "But here we’re allowing industry to leak or leach coal ash into water that’s running rampant everywhere."
The top coal-producing states are Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kentucky, which together account for nearly 70 percent of America's coal production. So far, several Republican leaders from those states have applauded the administration's move, primarily because they believe it will help the economy.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said he was "grateful" that the Trump administration is rescinding the Clean Power Plan, which he called "unfair, unworkable, and likely illegal"; Wyoming Senator John Barrasso referred to the previous regulations as hurtful to his state's workforce; and Illinois Representative John Shimkus said he's "glad to see the Trump Administration return to the principles of cooperative federalism that have ... reduced air pollution for decades." None of them have addressed health concerns.
President Trump campaigned heavily in coal-producing states in 2016, pledging to boost the industry. But some experts say the move does little to address the long-term issues facing coal miners.
"The coal industry workforce is shrinking on it’s own. Coal mining jobs are way down partly because they’ve been so automated, partly because you know the best coal has already been mined out. It’s a shrinking industry," Gottlieb said.
Even after the 60-day comment period is up, it could still take more time for the rule to go into effect. While some Republicans in Congress are cheering it on, plenty of Democrats are vowing to fight it from being implemented.