Our Opinion: State actions are limited against D.C sabotage

Massachusetts is better prepared to withstand Trump administration assaults on the environment and health care than many states because it has in recent years acted on its own to improve life for residents. There are limits, however, as to how much any one state can do in the face of a concerted effort by the federal government to weaken or obliterate good laws and regulations.

The president escalated his war on the environment last week when he announced the scrapping of an Obama administration plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. There is no war on coal as Washington Republicans would have it, just the natural progression from one source of energy to more efficient sources, such as natural gas. Its roots are economic, not political, and by introducing politics, the administration risks putting the nation behind other developed countries in Europe and Asia that will benefit in terms of jobs and revenue from the ongoing shift toward cleaner forms of energy.

Massachusetts and its New England allies will challenge this action in court, but while this process goes on, the states can be proud that they had already established clean power plant regulations that are actually tougher than the federal ones offered by President Obama. The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state to reduce carbon emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) reached this summer by the New England states and three others, will reduce power plant emissions by a further 30 percent from 2020 to 2030. The power industry in New England has worked with environmentalists in establishing reductions, and this partnership should continue in finding ways to reduce vehicle emissions.

Massachusetts, however, can't do anything about the prevailing winds that carry pollution from states to the west like Pennsylvania. A decade ago, Berkshire and Massachusetts officials and environmentalists successfully fought the construction of a large power plant along the Hudson River that would have sent pollution westward over South Berkshire County, but these battles cannot be won along the entire western front. If tough federal regulations on air pollution are lost, and states outside of New England don't act responsibly, this region can only do so much.

Massachusetts' pioneering health care reform enabled almost every resident to get insurance and was a model for the Affordable Care Act that President Trump is determined to sabotage. His decision to end health insurance subsidies used by insurers to provide lower costs for low-income Americans will do real damage in Massachusetts to families that need help the most, and again there are limits to what the state can do.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker has called on Congress to restore authorization for the funding and Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey has joined colleagues in other states, including red states like Kentucky, to block the president's action in court. These efforts may prevail, but as is the case with air pollution, it is difficult for states to reform or protect a health system so linked to federal laws. Cynical politics out of Washington can inflict damage that Boston, for all its good laws and good intentions, cannot repair.


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