Testimony on Proposed Repeal of the Clean Power Plan

My name is Beth Kaeding, and I live in Bozeman, Montana. I traveled here today to speak on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which is a network of grassroots organizations in 7 western states. We have more than 15,000 members in 39 local community groups. I am currently the Chair of WORC’s Board.

Members of WORC participated in the original drafting of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by submitting scoping comments and attending and speaking at public hearings held on that plan. Many of our members are farmers and ranchers who know first-hand the significant impacts that climate change and global warming are having on their personal and economic lives. We believe that our nation must join the rest of the world in facing and addressing climate change. We were strongly supportive of the original Clean Power Plan. It integrated independent scientific data from across a broad range of science fields into a reasonable plan for tackling the human-caused aspects of climate change.

It appears to us that the primary purpose of the current EPA proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan is to support the coal mining industry by keeping coal-fired power plants in operation. This plan ignores the fact that coal can no longer compete in our nation’s changing electricity markets. Eliminating the Clean Power Plan will not save the coal industry. Let’s take a look at just a few facts:

  • There has been an unprecedented number of coal-fired power plants that have recently retired all across the Midwest, and many more are expected to retire this year.
  • Natural gas prices remain too low for coal to be profitable; this fact is expected to continue through at least 2025.
  • Many coal-fired power plants are, today, being run seasonally, which is less efficient and puts more wear and tear on plant machinery.
  • Gas-fired power plants are becoming more and more efficient as turbines get larger, consequently these plants can produce more electricity with less energy input.
  • The cost of renewable energy has reached a turning point. It now costs less to build and operate either wind or solar generation facilities than it does to operate coal-fired plants – and that is without subsidies! Clean and cheap power is here to stay – and people all across the nation are demanding it.

All of this is already happening regardless of whether or not the Clean Power Plan is repealed.

While we recognize that coal will not disappear from the energy stream immediately, market forces do indicate that coal is increasingly going to have a smaller and smaller share of the energy market, domestically as well as internationally. This is reality, and it must be planned for.

Instead of looking backward and trying to prop up a fading coal industry, the EPA and the Administration should be looking forward and find ways to positively transition our coal communities into today’s world.

We believe that the only way to extend coal area jobs is to ensure full reclamation of coal mine sites. It takes just as much work – if not more – to reclaim lands ravaged by coal strip mines than it does to do the strip mining in the first place.

Despite federal and state laws that mandate reclamation following coal strip mining, it is not happening fast enough. There is a woeful lack of evidence of contemporaneous reclamation and/or reclamation success as measured by bond release throughout the West. There are more than 600 square miles of land across the West that have been strip mined since 1977. Only 348 square miles, a little over half, have been re-vegetated. That means nearly half of all the land stripmined in the West during the past 40 years still needs to be reclaimed.

More specifically, in my state of Montana, coal strip mines have been operating for more than 40 years. But as of July 2016, of the 41,809 acres that have been disturbed by coal strip mining operations, only 21,519 acres have achieved Phase I reclamation and bond release, which means that a permittee has completed the backfilling, re-grading, topsoil replacement, re-contouring, and drainage control required for a bonded area. Of particular concern, during this same time only 838 acres in all of Montana have achieved Phase IV (final) bond release where the hydrologic balance of the area has been restored.

America needs a realistic, scientifically valid, and innovative Clean Power Plan. What is presented here today is none of the above.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments on this critically important issue for our nation and our region.

– Beth Kaeding, WORC Chair, Gillette, Wyoming, March 27, 2018

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