Federal officials met with the public in the heart of the Powder River Basin, the most productive coal mining region in the country, for one of four public listening sessions on a proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
The March 27 meeting was held in Gillette, Wyo., just a few miles away from some of the largest coal mines in the U.S. that are operated by companies such as Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc. Coal supporters and opponents gathered to share their opinions on a rule the U.S. Supreme Court placed on hold in February 2016.
The Clean Power Plan would require states to meet individual carbon emissions rate limits that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had estimated would cut the power sector's carbon output 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.
Cloud Peak Energy Inc. is a pure-play Powder River Basin coal producer and one of the largest coal companies in the U.S. by tons produced. The company's vice president of government and public affairs, Richard Reavey, said in remarks prepared for the hearing that the rule would have a negligible impact on global climate but would destroy regional economies that are dependent on coal.
"The Clean Power Plan was designed to change the 'tone and tenor of the discussion' on climate to make the Obama administration look good to its donors," Reavey said. "It was designed to deliver ever more money to its green billionaire backers. It was designed to destroy an industry, kill tens of thousands of jobs, devastate regional economies and communities like the one we stand in today."
Mike Scott, a senior Beyond Coal campaign representative with the Sierra Club in Montana, said that without the Clean Power Plan, coal communities are "left to the whims" of market forces he said will continue to drive coal retirements in the United States. Coal plant retirements have continued even though the rule has been paused, largely due to continued low prices for natural gas.
"With or without the Clean Power Plan, coal continues to fall behind cleaner energy options like wind and solar as the cheapest way to make electricity," Scott said. "The Clean Power Plan would have provided a predictable, orderly transition schedule for coal communities."
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., delivered remarks at a rally of Wyoming coal workers before the listening sessions. There, he said the Clean Power Plan was not only "bad policy" but also illegal. According to a press release, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., also attended the rally to support a repeal of a plan he said would harm an industry critical to Wyoming's budget and the state's broader economy.
Several states have filed legal action asserting the EPA overstepped its legal authority in publishing the rule and indicated compliance would be difficult, particularly in coal-dependent states. A 2016 analysis by the Sierra Club, however, found the power industry was on pace to meet the Clean Power Plan's national goals 13 years earlier than planned.
The comment period on a repeal of the Clean Power Plan ends April 26. A separate comment period on a possible replacement rule ended Feb. 26.