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Coal miners find broad support, but solutions differ at Clean Power Plan hearing

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Coal miners find broad support, but solutions differ at Clean Power Plan hearing

Coal miners and industry supporters rallied in Charleston, W.Va., on Nov. 28 as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accepted public feedback at a hearing on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

That hearing, which is scheduled to conclude Nov. 29, is the only one planned as the agency works to reduce regulation consistent with President Donald Trump's mandate to agencies to remove the regulatory burden imposed on American energy production. The president specifically singled out the Clean Power Plan, which would require existing fossil fuel-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions, for repeal.

One side of the hearing room in West Virginia's state capitol building was packed with coal miners, who enthusiastically greeted Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray as he arrived prior to his early morning testimony. Murray shook the coal miners' hands and quipped, "You guys know you have to work the afternoon shift, right?"

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led off the speakers, calling the rule devastating for his state and criticizing the Obama administration, which promulgated the Clean Power Plan, for not visiting West Virginia during the rule's development.

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey shakes hands with coal miners outside the state capitol on Nov. 28.

Source: Annalee Armstrong/S&P Global Market Intelligence

"We want to work with the EPA to put appropriate regulatory and judicial restraints in place so that the power plan never again sees the light of day," Morrisey said. "I also would like to work with Congress to put other statutory provisions [in place] to make it clear that the Clean Power Plan not only is unlawful, but it's bad policy as well."

Following Morrisey were a number of individuals, many of whom were representing members of Congress who were tied up with votes in Washington, D.C., and unable to attend the hearing. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins of West Virginia said the Clean Power Plan and other Obama administration regulations were "strangling the economy" in that state. Jenkins said the repeal of the Clean Power Plan will continue to "fuel a resurgence" of West Virginia's economy.

"The eight years before President Trump took office, the war on coal decimated an entire industry, a way of life in West Virginia," Jenkins said. "Ten thousand coal jobs were lost here over the last five years because of the war on coal. But this is changing thanks to President Trump and [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt."

During his testimony, Murray cited a handful of problems with the Clean Power Plan and called the Obama administration's efforts to regulate coal and power generation a "regulatory rampage." Murray said the Clean Power Plan would have devastated coal-fired generation, imposed massive costs on American consumers and contributed to the instability of the power grid. He said Trump's executive orders on energy independence already have had a positive impact on coal communities.

Those who presented testimony appeared relatively evenly split between backers and opponents of the Clean Power Plan, although support for coal miners themselves was prominent on both sides. When Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Liz Perera took the podium, she remarked that coal miners "have been the backbone of our country for many years" and thanked them for enduring such a difficult job.

However, Perera also said the industry has been troubled for years regardless of EPA policies such as the Clean Power Plan. She noted that the Obama administration provided a plan in parallel with the Clean Power Plan, called the Power+ Plan, which was aimed at transitioning coal communities by offering retraining opportunities. Slamming the EPA and Pruitt for "cooking the books" to justify the repeal of the carbon rule, she said, "This is about the kind of world we want to leave for our children, and we need to support a clean energy future."

During the event, coal industry group officials, state politicians and others gathered on the steps of the capitol building to thank the EPA for bringing the Clean Power Plan hearing to Charleston. They expressed optimism that the coal industry had a bright future, absent the rule and under an administration that supports coal.

Across the Kanawha River, the Sierra Club, other grassroots environmental groups and a representative from the New York Attorney General's Office similarly rallied, expressing a different kind of optimism: one for a future of clean energy and state-level action on carbon emissions.

Union of Concerned Scientists Senior Energy Analyst Jeremy Richardson called for increased support for coal country and a comprehensive plan to address the economic challenges left behind as the nation transitions to cleaner sources of energy.

Many of the environmental groups criticized the EPA for holding just one hearing on the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a step that is not necessarily required in the rulemaking process. The agency had said it would host a public hearing if enough interest was expressed, and the environmental groups argued that the EPA should have scheduled more events across the country to hear from as many people as possible in light of the overwhelming number of hearing requests it received.