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Coal and Environmental Advocates Clash at EPA Hearing

EPA’s hearings in Pittsburgh Thursday and Friday on a proposed rule to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants were quiet but forceful inside, but led to loud confrontations outside the building.

What is everyone arguing about? The proposal would require a 32 percent reduction of carbon pollution from Pennsylvania power plants by 2030 from 2012 levels. About three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector come from burning coal. A study produced by the EPA shows that an emissions reduction of 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 would lead to coal production decline in Appalachia, but would lead to overall economic benefit, mainly through growth in other energy sectors such as natural gas.

And the Obama Administration has moved forward with regulations on electric generation emissions that have been labeled either “job killing” or “lifesaving,” depending on the point of view of the observer.

The plan faces serious opposition from the coal industry along with the many Republicans and coal-state Democrats. On the other side, environmental groups welcome the rule but say it doesn’t go far enough.

Following the rally noted above, protesters on both sides remained in Pittsburgh this week leading to several arrests. During a lunch break on Thursday, hundreds of protesters fresh from a clean-air rally with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto confronted thousands of union workers marching through what Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea told them is a “union city.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Vincent Brisini testified before the EPA that “Pennsylvania does support efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We believe, however, that it must be done in a lawful manner that results in cleaner air, more jobs and lower energy prices.”  Brisini also noted that “These decisions should be made by elected officials.”

West Virginia lawmaker Cindy Frich said she felt the rule was a threat to her state, noting that, “We’re already having problems with our state budget. I really see problems ahead if these rules are implemented.”

Supporters of the rule made cases surrounding job impacts in non-coal industries, health concerns from doctors and the general public, environmental issues, and long-term economic viability.

Former Toledo, Ohio city council member Frank Szollosi testified about an Ohio water plant had to close because of Lake Erie algae blooms caused by warmer weather and heavier rains flushing nutrients into the lake.

Some testified that the EPA must consider the negative impacts on agriculture, Pennsylvania’s largest industry. Others testified that Pennsylvania’s wildlife, tourism, and game and fishing industries are being harmed by pollution, noting the destruction of 35 percent of the state’s brook trout habitat, decreases ruffed grouse, and other wildlife staples.

Under the EPA proposed rule, each state would have the ability to come up with their own plan to cut carbon emissions using combinations of renewables, natural gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency measures. Deputy Secretary Brisini said of the EPA’s state level requirements that “any purported flexibility is illusory.”

More 400 people were slated to testify at the two day hearing, which continued Friday.  The EPA is accepting written comments on the proposal through October, and its deadline for a final version of the rule is June of 2015.

More Information:
DEP Written Testimony
EPA Carbon Pollution Standards
Protests, Arrests at EPA Hearings in Pittsburgh