EPA hears both sides of Clean Power Plan during Charleston hearing

Source: The Exponent Telegram

CHARLESTON — From a 23-year-old North Carolina Council of Churches staffer to the CEO of the nation’s largest privately held coal company, officials of the Environmental Protection Agency heard dozens if not hundreds of people speak in opposition to or in favor of the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday.

In hearings conducted simultaneously in three rooms of the state Capitol, EPA officials listened as people gave their opinions in comments limited to five minutes each.

“My generation and my family will be living and breathing the repercussions of today’s decision,” said Michelle Peedin, the Council of Churches staffer. “Let’s protect the people, not the polluters.”

Robert E. Murray, founder, president and CEO of Murray Energy, took the opposite approach to what he described as the “so-called and illegal Clean Power Plan, better known as the No Power Plan.”

Jim Probst, state coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, said he understands the need to protect jobs, but asked, “When do people’s lives and health fit into that equation?”

He urged the EPA not to just keep the Clean Power Plan, but also to “make it more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Liz Perera, a climatologist for the Sierra Club, said polls show a majority of Americans supporting the plan.

“Repealing the plan is ignoring the reality of the climate crisis,” she said.

Two officials with the United Mine Workers of America conducted a news conference by the coal miner statue on the Capitol grounds after offering their testimony.

“The Clean Power Plan has placed the burden of solving the problem of global climate change on the backs of American coal miners, their families and their communities, even though the plan as it stands has virtually no hope of having any impact on worldwide carbon emissions,” said Levi Allen, international secretary-treasurer for the UMWA.

“(UMWA President Cecil) Roberts, our membership and I will continue to fight for our members’ jobs and look forward to working on a new plan that property addresses the problem of global climate change in a way that does destroy our coalfield communities,” Allen said.

Gene Trisko, environmental counsel for the UMWA, said he expects the decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan to be made early next year and a new plan to be announced shortly thereafter.

The hearings at the Capitol this week are part of the first step of a two-step process, Trisko said.

“Step One is repealing the Clean Power Plan as we know it — basically eradicating it from the pages of the Federal Register,” Trisko said.

“And then, we understand, EPA intends to propose a replacement rule, and that will happen in the course of the next month or so, we anticipate,” he said. “That proposal will set forth a number of options for EPA’s future course of action in dealing with carbon dioxide emissions, including a scaled-back version of the Clean Power Plan that focuses on plant-by-plant assessments that focuses on what can be done to improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions at individual power plants.”

That, Trisko said, is what the section of law the EPA cited in writing the Clean Power Plan is all about.

“The UMWA has been active in this process in supporting repeal of the proposal, and we will be active in the second phase of developing the alternative rule to replace the Clean Power Plan,” Trisko said.

Several opponents of the Clean Power Plan thanked the EPA for finally having a public meeting in coal country to hear comments on a proposal that affects the coal industry and coal jobs.

“We thank you all for giving us new hope, and you see more smiles in this room than you have in the last eight years,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Cosmo Servidio, administrator for EPA Region 3, said being in a coal-producing state to hear comments is part of the administration’s commitment to federalism.

“As we delegate our authorities to (states), we are in partnership with them to make sure that first and foremost our laws are implemented to the rule of law. Regrettably, the past eight years, there was definitely overreach by the previous administration,” Servidio said.

“That’s why we’re here in West Virginia in coal country. It’s important that we hear from the region that is adversely affected by this plan, Servidio said.

Staff Writer Jim Ross can be reached at 304-395-3483 or email at jross@statejournal.com