The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency returned to friendly terrain in coal country this week for two days of public hearings on its proposal to repeal a key federal rule aimed at reducing pollution that contributes to climate change.
Last month EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt chose an eastern Kentucky mining town as the venue to announce his intent to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule that sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the agency set up shop in the West Virginia capitol in Charleston to conduct its only public hearing on the matter.
Nearly 300 people signed up to comment in the standard 3-minute format. Despite the coal country setting, most speakers at EPA’s hearings were opposed to repealing the rule. Many speakers from public health and environmental groups had traveled to make their voice heard, such as Detroit hip hop artist and activist Douglas Meyers, Jr. with the Michigan United People’s Action Network.
“You guys woke up this morning and put your suits on and you’re listening to us,” he said. “Some people put on suits and they’re going into a casket because they died from dealing with pollution. It seems like maybe you guys don’t care.”
Many of those who spoke in favor of the Clean Power Plan emphasized the health benefits that would come from reducing power plant pollution. Danielle Walker from Morgantown, West Virginia, represented the Mom’s Clean Air Force.
“We are Mountaineers,” she said. “Climate pollution has no home in our future.”
“No Power” Plan
A group of about 30 coal miners in work apparel complete with hardhats sat in one of the three hearing rooms to hear their boss, Bob Murray. Murray is CEO of the Ohio-based coal company Murray Energy, and a leading opponent of the Clean Power Plan. He applauded EPA’s decision to repeal the regulation, which he called the “No power plan” and “a linchpin of Mr Obama and the Democrats’ war on coal.”
“God bless President Trump, and you coal miners,” Murray said. “I love you, fellas. God bless you.”
West Virginia state officials and coal industry representatives from around the Ohio Valley also spoke in support of the repeal, calling the Clean Power Plan an illegal overreach that would cost the region jobs.
Bill Raney of the West Virginia Coal Association said he was encouraged that the EPA was listening to the people most affected by the rule: miners.
“Our miners are the best practicing environmentalists in the world. They’re going to protect their environments,” Raney said. “They won’t accept dirty air or dirty water.”
One such coal miner was 72 year-old retiree-turned activist Stanley Sturgill. After 41 years mining underground he struggles with black lung disease and is now a member of Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, which advocates for clean energy. Sturgill drove from his home in Harlan County, Kentucky, to offer an unexpected perspective: that of a miner who supports the Clean Power Plan.
“Do I really think that this administration cares what this old coal miner has to say? I really doubt it,” Sturgill said. “But as long as I can draw a breath, I’m going to keep working to fight climate change and protect the land and people that I love ”
The EPA will continue to take comments on the proposed repeal until January 16th.
NOTE: This story has been updated throughout with more comments from the EPA event.