EPA: Protection is its middle name

It would be in poor taste, if it weren't so much worse than that, to have Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, crowing that "coal is back" while Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Gulf Coast, the Florida Keys and California wine country are suffering from massive natural disasters that suspiciously match those that climate change experts have been warning about.

Pruitt announced Monday in coal-mining Kentucky that EPA would withdraw the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era set of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. He signed the repeal order Tuesday. The decision has been expected ever since Donald Trump made a campaign pledge to restore mining jobs by cutting back fossil fuel restrictions.

The five major North American hurricanes in recent weeks — Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria and Nate — variously set records for ferocity, wind speeds, rainfall, size, damage and, in the case of Nate, the pace at which it traveled. That much wind and water in so short a time coincides with record-warm ocean temperatures, and while science can't prove a climate-change cause of these particular storms, warmer waters are known to spawn and intensify hurricane development. Atmospheric changes have been blamed for increased likelihood of droughts, water shortages and wildfires, including those in California and this summer in the Northwest.

There is no disputing that Earth is getting hotter with every passing year. Scientists put at least part of the blame on power plants and vehicles that emit vast quantities of carbon compounds. Yet while the EPA administrator and his boss, President Trump, go about dismantling the nation's attempt to address carbon emissions, they have largely stopped debating whether fossil fuels are part of the problem.

They don't care. Having said they doubt climate-change theory, they have moved beyond biology and botany, chemistry and physics. Instead of long-term planning they are acting for the financial gain of their political clan in their already senior lifetimes.

It's hard to imagine such thinking, when you consider that even super-wealthy industrialists and PAC members have children and grandchildren. They are likelier than most to own beautiful vacation properties now threatened by wildfires or rising seas. They drink fine wine, probably — but the California vintages of 2017 are going to be hard to get.

Pruitt said Monday that it is wrong for a regulatory agency to pick winners and losers, and the Clean Power Plan does that to the coal industry. The plan targets all fossil fuels, but if it's wrong to regulate any industry, why bother with the Food and Drug Administration? Or the National Transportation Safety Board? Prudent and reasonable regulations benefit everyone.

Wouldn't a normal sense of self-preservation, at least, suggest hedging one's bets? Instead there is a gleeful sense of "Tim-berrr!" as Pruitt and Trump hatchet the rules and agreements that were so difficult to achieve, but which almost every other country supports.

With outsized environmental disasters, manmade or not, happening frequently and severely, the EPA ought to aggressively pursue long-term solutions to chronic problems — as it used to. Coastal resiliency for the Caribbean islands and continental U.S. should be an urgent mandate. If Pruitt wants to strengthen the economy through his EPA pulpit, he might consider ways to prevent devastating harm to agriculture and development from water shortages and drought. Without a future vision, how will there be future markets for the coal industry to come back to? 

And no, the EPA shouldn't be in the business of picking winners or losers. It was created to safeguard the environment for all who inhabit it. Protection is its middle name.

Editors note: The hurricane Harvey was omitted from the previous version of this editorial.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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