Far from accepting the foregone conclusion that the EPA will follow the coal industry’s wishes and repeal the Clean Power Plan regardless of what the people say, members of Powder River Basin Resource Council, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Dakota Rural Action showed up to testify alongside other concerned citizens to stop the repeal of the CPP. WORC’s new board chair Beth Kaeding also joined the voices to keep the rules stopping coal-fired power plants from polluting at pre-Obama levels.
The final count was 43 people testifying against scrapping the CPP and 79 in favor (pretty decent numbers in the geographic, if not metaphoric, heart of coal country.) This hearing was the only one of four held around the country where the supporters of repealing the CPP outnumbered the opposition.
High turnout of advocates for keeping the Clean Power Plan around the US reflects the actual level of support for keeping the rules. A recent study by Yale found that a majority of Americans in every state support the Clean Power Plan (69% to 29% in aggregate), including majorities in every congressional district.
Richard Bell, engineer and member of Dakota Rural Action, commented on the recent draft from the White House Office of Management and Budget, suggesting that, in regards to the costs versus benefits of EPA regulations, “of the 39 regulations started between 2006 and 2016, that it’s cost between $41 billion and $49 billion but the benefits are $149 billion. So, apparently, these kinds of regulations are returning far more in benefits than they cost.”
He went on to say, “the EPA not only has the power to regulate CO₂ emissions, but its own endangerment assessment findings in 2009 requires CO₂ must be regulated because it’s a danger to public health. However, this EPA administration appears to be more interested in helping the coal industry and ignoring the adverse health effects that these pollutants are causing.”
Christy Gerritts, a member of Powder River Basin Resource Council, echoed Bell’s assertion that the Clean Power Plan’s regulation of air pollution woulf yield health benefits beyond state boundaries. “We would reduce production of SO₂ by 318,000 tons and NO₂ by 282,000 tons,” she said. “Because these pollutants create dangerous soot and smog, the implementation of CPP would prevent thousands of premature deaths and an estimated 90,000 yearly asthma attacks in children.”
Bell countered the EPA’s position that it is still focused on protecting the environment and people’s health. “When director Pruitt says things like the war on coal is over, it only serves to highlight how the EPA’s focus has shifted from protecting public health to protecting the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
“It appears to us that the primary purpose of the EPA proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan is to support the coal mining industry by keeping coal-fired power plants in operation,” said Beth Kaeding, WORC’s board chair, bringing up the current downward trend in the coal market as it competes with cheap natural gas and the ever-falling cost of renewables.
She gave a dire warning of the future of the coal industry. “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.”
The outlook wasn’t all bleak for coal workers, however. Gillian Malone of PRBRC spoke of the potential of keeping good-paying coal jobs in the area related to the massive clean-up and reclamation efforts it will take to return Wyoming’s 180,000 acres of coal mines to arable ranch land. “In Wyoming, we have the potential of coal mine reclamation jobs to help us transition to a renewable energy economy,” she said.
“There are more than 600 square miles of land across the West that have been strip mined since 1977,” Kaeding said. “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,” she continued. “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. 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.”
Christy Gerritts of PRBRC also offered hope for coal workers fearing for their jobs, while also blowing a hole in Pruitt’s main argument for dumping the CPP. “Purportedly, the CPP is being scrapped to save coal mining jobs. But those jobs are not being affected by regulation, but by market forces. Renewable energy is more affordable and competitive than ever. There are now 260,000 US solar workers compared to 30,000 in the coal mining industry. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the two fastest growing jobs in the next decade will be turbine technician and solar installer.”
Becky Mitchell of Northern Plains Resource Council used their Homegrown Prosperity initiative as an example for keeping coal industry towns vibrant. “Our focus is on the continuing employment of local workers with union jobs in the preservation of Colstrip as a healthy, economically thriving community and the cleanup of a toxic environmental problem that is detrimental to a wider area that includes the ranching community.”
“In spite of the tremendous wind potential in Wyoming, we have placed virtually all of our eggs in the fossil fuels basket. Because, up until now, it’s been easy to do so,” Gillian Malone of PRBRC said in an impassioned statement. “Wyoming can benefit from the wind development already occurring here and other projects heading our way. One of these projects promises 3,000 megawatts of wind power, the largest in the nation. We are struggling in Wyoming right now to define who we are and how we’re going to participate in a changing world. We can either continue to beat back change until we are beaten down and left behind, or we can take charge, embrace the change and move forward.”
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