DENVER — Environmental Protection Agency officials received an earful at Wednesday's listening-tour stop in Denver as most speakers urged the agency to stop what they described as the Obama administration's war on the coal industry.
"The proposed regulation being considered by the EPA will, without a doubt, be a death penalty to the coal industry," said Greg Kohn of Count on Coal Montana. "Make no mistake, not only will it destroy the coal industry, it will severely impact other industries, communities, and most importantly, it will severely impact thousands of working-class families."
The all-day hearing was part of the EPA's 11-stop listening tour prior to developing proposed carbon-emissions regulations on existing power plants as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The agency plans to issue its proposal by June 2014.
Critics point out that most of the cities on the listening tour — including Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco — are far from coal-mining operations and therefore don't have a direct stake in the anticipated loss of jobs from additional regulations.
The Institute for 21st Century Energy and 13 state and business groups fired off a letter accusing the agency of breaking its own rules requiring hearings to be held in the geographic area affected by the proposed policies.
"EPA has chosen to locate most of these hearings in states and regions that use very little coal, while neglecting states most dependent on coal for affordable and reliable electricity generation," said the letter.
Colorado state Rep. Ray Scott, speaking at a pro-coal rally held during the hearing outside the state Capitol, described the listening tour as little more than window-dressing.
Mr. Obama "is mandating these changes from D.C. through the Interior Department to EPA, who now is sitting here having hearings to try to make you feel better," said Mr. Scott. "Do you think the decision is made? More than likely, yes, it is made."
At the hearing, pro-coal speakers, who outnumbered pro-regulation speakers by about 2 to 1, said another wave of rules would deal a crippling blow to an industry already reeling from the EPA's recent moves to impose stringent limits on mercury emissions and future coal-fired plants.
Helen Leon, who said her husband works for Powder River Energy in Wyoming, said rural seniors will "suffer greatly if you increase their utility costs."
"Thermostats are set lower in the winter, and they turn off the air conditioning totally in the summer," said Mrs. Leon. "Your actions can increase their utility costs significantly, and that will further erode their quality of life."
On the other side were speakers who said new regulations are needed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, arguing that they were responsible in part for recent environmental disasters like Colorado's summer wildfires and September flooding.
"A friend of mine lost his home in Thompson Canyon," said Oliver Young of Morrison, Colo. "I'm not saying that climate has to do exclusively with this, but climate change, temperature increases and intensification of weather patterns due to greenhouse-gas emissions have played a part in this."
Colorado state Rep. Steve Humphrey said EPA regulations have already helped close 300 coal units in 33 states, even though carbon-dioxide emissions from U.S. coal represents only 3 percent of global emissions. China, India and developing countries have flatly refused to limit their carbon-dioxide emissions.
"Reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from the U.S. coal fleet will increase energy costs without any meaningful effect on global climate change," said Mr. Humphrey.
The panel also heard from labor leaders, a traditional Democratic Party constituency, who said that union jobs will be lost if the EPA pursues further regulations.
"We are not putting our heads in sand here," said Bruce Lawlor of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111. "We will support reasonable measures to increase energy efficiency at coal generation plants, reducing their CO2 emissions; however, we cannot support targets that will force a new wave of plant closures and job losses."
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