The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday is holding its only public hearing on the Trump administration's push to axe the Clean Power Plan in Charleston, West Virginia, smack dab in the middle of coal country—a location that green groups said gives the event "all the markings of a sham" designed to silence agency critics and elevate proponents of dirty energy.
"I know it's no accident that they're holding the hearing in a place where the coal industry still wields significant political power."
—Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
"I know it's no accident that they're holding the hearing in a place where the coal industry still wields significant political power," Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, wrote in an op-ed on Monday.
Nonetheless, environmentalists were determined to make their voices heard amid the crowd of fully-dressed coal miners in attendance at the start of the meeting on Tuesday.
"The EPA is having this hearing here because they think everyone in West Virginia opposes the Clean Power Plan," Bill Price, an organizer for the Sierra Club in West Virginia, told The New Republic. "We're going to show them differently."
Repealing the Clean Power Plan (CPP)—a program designed to slash emissions from coal-fired power plans—has long been on EPA chief Scott Pruitt's extensive pro-fossil fuel to-do list. In October, the EPA publicly unveiled its official proposal to roll back the CPP, a move green groups vowed to fight in court and in the streets.
On Tuesday, environmentalists took their fight straight to the EPA, arguing that contrary to Big Oil talking points, the CPP is vital for safeguarding public health and spurring job growth and innovation.
"We can have both" good jobs and a clean environment, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council argued in his testimony. "We can—and we must—protect Americans' health and preserve the stability of our climate."
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"It is not the job of the EPA to protect the coal industry," adds Dr. Jeremy Richardson, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "In fact, the EPA is bound by law to address air and water pollutants from producing and using coal. Many of these pollutants are hurting the health of communities right here in Appalachia, where acid mine drainage and coal ash contaminate our waterways, and are also causing harm around the country where people live downwind from coal-fired power plants."
Stanley Sturgill, a 72-year-old former coal worker suffering from black lung also weighed in with an "emotional plea" in support of the CPP.
A 72-year-old former coal miner with black lung and COPD just delivered an emotional plea to the EPA to “help us—we’re literally dying”. A few of the current coal workers in the audience shook their heads; almost like they don’t believe him.
— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) November 28, 2017
While there have been some indications that the EPA is considering scheduling more hearings on its plan to scrap the CPP, the agency has already gone to great lengths to minimize public scrutiny. As Emily Atkin of The New Republic notes, the "EPA only gave the public two weeks to sign up for a speaking slot" at Tuesday's event, "and publicized the hearing only by press release."
As a counter to the Pruitt's narrow approach to discussion and debate, Sierra Club is holding its own "Hearing for Healthy Communities" in West Virginia on Tuesday "to remind Trump and his administration that he is out of step with the public and the world" and to collect comments to deliver to the EPA.
"Trump and Scott Pruitt are again putting polluter profits before the health and safety of our communities and the environment," Sierra Club concluded in a statement, "despite overwhelming support of the Clean Power Plan, demonstrated by 4.3 million comments, and thousands rallying and testifying in support at listening sessions and public hearings."