Big chill may await EPA

WHEELING – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials can expect a chilly reception as they arrive in Pittsburgh for the last of four public hearings scheduled this week concerning proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants.

The EPA expects to hear about 22 hours of comments from more than 360 speakers Thursday and Friday at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh. The proposed rules, announced June 1, would set state-specific goals for emissions reductions with an overall aim of reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s fossil fuel-fired power fleet by about 30 percent by 2030.

But before the hearings get underway, hundreds of coal miners plan to join labor leaders and area politicians today at Highmark Stadium, located near Station Square, to rally against the proposed regulations, which opponents say can’t be met with existing technology and will lead to the closure of a significant portion of the nation’s coal-fired generating capacity.

Expected to represent West Virginia at today’s rally are Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, as well as officials with the West Virginia Coal Association. Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also are expected to be on hand.

The slate of speakers for Thursday and Friday’s public hearings include representatives of environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation, as well as leaders of the United Mine Workers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions. There also will be some local speakers on hand, as Thursday’s schedule includes Jennifer Garrison, a Democrat candidate for Ohio’s 6th Congressional District seat. On Friday, the EPA will hear from Belmont County Commissioner Matt Coffland, as well as Mike Carey, vice president for governmental affairs for St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy Corp.

IBEW officials point out that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, while on the rise, still provide less than 5 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Shutting down dozens of coal-fired power plants, they said, will undermine the reliability of the country’s electrical grid.

“As an organization of energy professionals, we understand how important renewable energy is to combating climate change and balancing our nation’s energy portfolio,” union President Edwin Hill said. “But we don’t have the alternative energy capacity necessary to replace the loss of that many power plants according to the EPA’s timeline.”

Despite the strong show of support for the coal industry expected at the Pittsburgh hearings, some believe their words will fall on deaf ears.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “clearly must only be listening to her friends in the environmental community, as she noted … the ‘overwhelming support’ for flexibility these standards will offer while going so far as forecasting economic growth and prosperity, if implemented,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity “The funny thing is she has yet to back up those claims with facts, and we all know that is probably because they simply don’t add up.”

The EPA also held hearings in Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C. Proceedings in those cities began Tuesday and continue today.

Among the speakers Tuesday in the nation’s capital was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who criticized EPA officials for largely avoiding coal-dependent regions as sites for its listening sessions.

“By not coming to West Virginia, Kentucky, the coal producing and consuming states, you send a message to that part of the country that our views and experiences just don’t matter,” Capito said.

The EPA hearings in Pittsburgh are expected to last from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. both Thursday and Friday.

The agency notes that those seeking to enter the meeting rooms to speak or hear testimony will be required to pass through security screening and show valid photo identification.

EPA officials said the agency already has received more than 300,000 comments concerning the proposed rules. The agency will continue accepting written comments by email, fax or letter until Oct. 16.