Monday, February 18, 2019

No Unanimity in ‘Coal Country’ Hearing on CPP Repeal

Last week’s public hearings on the repeal of the Clean Power Plan provided EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt the stage he sought for coal industry supporters to blast the Obama administration’s environmental policies. But not everyone stuck to the script.

Pruitt said he chose to have the hearings in “the heart of coal country to hear from those most impacted” by the CPP. During two days of hearings at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charlestown, coal magnate Robert Murray, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and other CPP critics derided the regulation as two dozen miners in hard hats and overalls looked on in support.

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Audience view of the Clean Power Plan hearing | EPA

But the hearings also attracted many supporters of the CPP, as well as business groups who argued for replacing the CPP with less stringent rules to provide regulatory certainty and protection against litigation.

Pruitt announced the repeal of the CPP in October, saying the Obama administration overstepped its authority by regulating beyond the “fence line” of individual generators. The question facing the Trump administration now is what the replacement — required by EPA’s 2009 finding that CO2 emissions endanger public health — should be. (See EPA to Announce Clean Power Plan Repeal.)

Morrisey said the CPP “would impose a top-down reordering of state energy economies … and would be disastrous for West Virginia and the country as a whole.”

Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, said EPA should repeal the power plan “in its entirety,” including overturning the endangerment finding.

But utilities and business groups urged EPA to leave the endangerment finding in place and focus on a replacement for the CPP.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked for “durable and achievable standards.”

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents utilities including Duke Energy and Ameren, said he supports a regulation that would require efficiency improvements in fossil fuel plants.

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Coal miners outside capitol bldg for EPA hearing | West Virginia Coal Association

“While ERCC believes that absent specific guidance in legislation from the U.S. Congress, market principles are the most sound basis upon which to proceed, we nevertheless support the process advanced by EPA,” Segal said. “Federal guidance of sufficient flexibility, and limited to actions within the fence line, can provide regulatory certainty, diminish frivolous litigation, and can aid in planning.”

Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law, told the Los Angeles Times that repeal without replacement “could open the floodgates for litigation,” leaving power companies vulnerable to “significant and highly uncertain liabilities.”

“The EPA is required to publicly regulate these pollutants. Therefore, repealing the [CPP] without a replacement is illegal,” Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee testified. “Ignoring these facts won’t make the problem go away; it will only serve to make it worse and delay the solutions we desperately need to meet this local, regional, national and international challenge.”

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Klee | © RTO Insider

Klee told RTO Insider later that while the first day of the hearing was dominated by many coal miners in the audience, EPA’s strategy to hold the meetings in coal country “backfired” on the second day when dozens of ordinary West Virginians spoke out against repeal. Klee and others called for additional hearings in other regions of the U.S.

The Obama EPA held public hearings in four states before issuing the CPP. An EPA official said last week that the agency was considering whether to hold additional hearings and had not set a schedule for announcing what kind of replacement rule it will propose.

“As a West Virginian, I’m insulted at the choice of this location,” resident David Lillard said. “It doesn’t make for great TV to have coal executives and some coal barons speaking about saving a few pennies per ton of coal, but it’s great theater to have desperate coal miners carrying the message for the coal barons and the coal companies that have lied to them repeatedly. They were told their pensions were safe, and that was a lie. They were told they would always have health care; that promise was broken.”

Nick Mullins, a fifth-generation coal miner from Kentucky, said the CPP will lead to safer and better job options for his son. “I don’t want him to be a sixth-generation coal miner,” Mullins said, citing the physical toll of the work.

“As long as I can draw a breath, I’m going to keep working to fight climate change and protect the land and country I love,” said Stanley Sturgill, a Kentucky resident who said he suffers from black lung disease after more than 40 years as a coal miner.

“The coal miners I talk to seem to know coal jobs will continue to dry up, with or without a Clean Power Plan,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We’ve been pitted against each other by being told we’ll either have coal, or we’ll have nothing. This administration seems to thrive on public anger and conflict. It’s a distraction. When people are fighting, they are not talking. … The clock is ticking to do something different than leaning on a dying industry.”

Indeed, just last week PPL said its Kentucky utilities will retire their aging coal units and replace them with natural gas and renewables — even without carbon regulations. The company said it projects CO2 reductions of 45 to 90% by 2050.

More: Fairmont Times; Charleston Gazette-Mail; The Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Washington Examiner; The Associated Press

— Michael Kuser and Rich Heidorn Jr.

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