DENVER—The Environmental Protection Agency brought its listening tour on coal-fired plant emissions to Denver Wednesday, but coal advocates worry that their concerns are going in one ear and out the other.
At a rally outside the state capitol, State Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) told a crowd of about 200 coal supporters that efforts to convince the agency to enact regulations the industry can live with are probably for naught.
“[President Obama] is mandating these changes from DC through the Interior Department to EPA, who now is sitting here having hearings to try to make you feel better,” said Scott. “Do you think the decision is made? More than likely, yes, it is made.”
Adding to that perception is the agency’s itinerary. EPA officials embarked this month on an 11-city listening tour as they contemplate new regulations on existing coal-fired power plants, but most of those stops are in heavily urban areas far from coal-mining operations.
The Institute for 21st Century Energy and 13 state and business groups issued a letter this week accusing the agency of breaking its own rules requiring hearings to be held in geographic areas affected by the proposed policies.
For example, the listening tour is making a stop in San Francisco, which receives 1 percent of its energy from coal-fired plants, but not West Virginia, where 96 percent of its electricity comes from coal.
“EPA has chosen to locate most of these hearings in states and regions that use very little coal, while neglecting states most dependent on coal for affordable and reliable electricity generation,” said the letter.
Of those 11 cities, Denver is the most dependent on coal, with 63 percent of its energy generated by coal-fired plants, according to the institute.
At the all-day hearing, speakers came from a half-dozen states to comment on the agency’s plan, with opponents of more regulations outnumbering proponents by at least 2 to 1.
“The proposed regulation being considered by the EPA will without a doubt be a death penalty to the coal industry,” said Greg Kohn of Count on Coal Montana. “Make no mistake, not only will it destroy the coal industry, it will severely impact other industries, communities, and most importantly, it will severely impact thousands of working-class families.”
Speakers insisted that the coal industry is already reeling from regulations enacted during the Obama administration on mercury and future coal-fired plants.
“We are not putting our heads in sand here,” said Bruce Lawlor of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111 in Denver. “We will support reasonable measures to increase energy efficiency at coal generation plants, reducing their CO2 emissions; however, we cannot support targets that will force a new wave of plant closures and job losses.”
Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, urged the agency to take into account Colorado’s progress to date in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions through initiatives such as the 2010 Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act and the state’s renewable-energy standard.
“There’s tremendous value in allowing states to pursue methods of public health and environmental protection that work best for their unique environments and economies,” said Rudolph.
On the other side were speakers who said that regulations on existing plants are needed to combat climate change, pointing to Colorado’s summer wildfires and epic September flooding as examples of weather events stoked by carbon-dioxide emissions.
“A friend of mine lost his home in Thompson Canyon. The entire house went into the river,” said Oliver Young of Morrison, Colo. “I’m not saying that climate has to do exclusively with this, but climate change, temperature increases and intensification of weather patterns due to greenhouse-gas emissions have played a part in this. The science is clear.”
Environmentalists held a counter-rally outside the Tattered Cover in Denver to drum up support for another round of regulation on the coal industry.
Pro-coal speakers argued that the science is on their side, citing studies showing that carbon-dioxide emissions are down 23 percent since 2005 as a result of technological innovations at power plants.
State Rep. Steve Humphrey (R-Windsor) said EPA regulations have already contributed to the closure of 300 existing coal units in 33 states, even though carbon-dioxide emissions from the U.S. coal fleet represent only 3 percent of global emissions.
“Reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from the U.S. coal fleet will increase energy costs without any meaningful effect on global climate change,” said Humphrey.
The EPA’s listening tour is slated to conclude in November, after which the agency is expected to release proposed regulations by June 2014 as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.