Thousands of coal supporters and environmentalists flocked to Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. to testify before the Environmental Protection Agency on a new rule that could severely cripple the U.S. coal industry.
For many coal miners present, this was a chance to express their frustrations with EPA’s regulatory agenda, which has forced the premature shutdown of hundreds of coal plants and mines around the country.
“In the end, most people here will not wonder or care what happens to my wife and kids if I no longer have a job,” Walter Parker, a life-long coal miner and union member, told EPA officials in Atlanta.
“No one will care until the money runs out and the government … which is killing our jobs, must pay the price of unemployment benefits, welfare and public assistance, which is running rampant in our country today,” Parker continued, tearing up as he went on.
A similar scene occurred at EPA hearings in Denver and Pittsburgh, where coal miners and coal country officials stressed the social and economic impacts of shifting the U.S. away from coal power through executive fiat.
“The environmental extremists’ war on coal is really a war on prosperity,” Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid told EPA officials in Denver. Kinkaid represents a coal-heavy area of Western Colorado, where mines contribute $428 million a tear to the local economy.
“This isn’t some abstract bureaucratic exercise to the people of Northwest Colorado. To us, this is personal,” Kinkaid said.
More than 2,000 pro-coal union members rallied ahead of the EPA’s field hearing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Union members and miners were joined by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and West Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
“We’re here to fight for clean coal. We’re here to fight for clean energy. But we’re also here to fight for our jobs,” Mark Walters, a member of Boilermakers Union Local 154, told WTAE Action News.
Up to 5,000 coal miners with the United Mine Workers of America and their families are expected to rally outside the EPA field hearings on Thursday in opposition to the EPA’s new rules.
“This is not the democracy that people went to two World Wars, fought in Vietnam, fought in Korea (for),” Cecil Roberts, UMWA president, told MetroNews. “This is not the democracy that we thought we had.”
The EPA’s new rule, proposed in June, would force states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030. Different states would have to meet different emissions reductions goals through either increasing power plant efficiency, using more natural gas and less coal, using more green energy or reducing energy demand.
The coal industry, however, would be heavily impacted by these rules and argues that electricity prices will go up as coal plants are taken offline.
“Coal is the backbone for reliable low-cost power,” Vic Svec, senior vice president of global investor and corporate relations at the coal company Peabody Energy, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The state of California gets no power from coal and electricity prices are 62 percent above prices in states like Missouri where they get 80 percent of their power from coal,” Svec added. “The EPA also ignores the health and human suffering that comes from driving up costs of such a staple product.”
Environmentalists, however, have been aggressively pushing the EPA’s new power plant rule as a necessary step in the fight against global warming. Environmentalist activists flooded the EPA field hearings to try and drown out pro-coal voices.
“We applaud the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and will work to make it even stronger because this new standard for carbon pollution gives my daughter, and all today’s kids, a fighting chance at a safe and promising future,” Mary Anne Hitt, national director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, told EPA officials at the Atlanta field hearing.
Of the 1,600 people slated to testify before the EPA at all its field hearings, 36 percent self-identified as part of an environmental group, according to EPA lists.
But while eco-activists were present at all four field hearings, their presence was most pronounced in Washington, D.C. where about 50 percent of the 404 people slated to testify over two days were affiliated with environmental groups.
Environmentalists made up 34 percent of the 477 listed speakers in Denver and activists made up 36 percent of the 405 speakers listed in Atlanta during the two-day field hearing. In Pittsburgh, environmentalists had their worst showing, with only 26 percent of the 369 speakers stating affiliations with green groups.
Despite environmentalist pressures, coal miners and the coal industry are still fighting back, urging the Obama administration ditch the rule that would do nothing to combat global warming.
“I am proud that I have been able to take care of my family because of the work I do. I am proud to be a miner,” Parker told the EPA at the Atlanta field hearing. “I have never asked for handouts from the people around me or from the government. I want to pay my own way. I want to work. I feel pride in my work. I want to be able to continue my profession and produce coal to power this nation. And I’m sorry that I get emotional, but I can’t help it.”
“In the end, I don’t see the Agency’s proposed policy as a real solution,” Parker added. “We will lose what we have worked for all of our lives and our communities will struggle in poverty. How can the EPA call this a success story?”
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