EPA to get earful from climate rule friends, foes
An estimated 1,600 people are slated to sound off to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed climate change rule for existing power plants this week at a series of marathon public hearings.
Scientists, lawmakers, environmentalists and industry officials will line up at the hearings to deliver five-minute statements on the merits or shortfalls of the EPA’s plans to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s power generators by nearly a third.
The grueling 11-hour sessions, which will be held over two days in Washington, Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh, aren’t likely to bridge the massive gap between the Republicans and industry groups that hate the rule and the liberals and environmentalists who love it.
Instead, expect both sides to dig in their heels, polishing off long-standing talking points about how the regulation is likely to either destroy the economy or save the planet.
It’s difficult to draw any broad conclusions from the hearings about how the average person feels about the regulation because many of those who will testify are closely associated with groups that have taken stands for or against the proposed carbon restrictions. Environmental and industry groups have hired buses to send members to the hearings in droves. Polls show that the majority of the public supports the rule.
The hearings are shaping up to be something of a spectacle, with many groups planning splashy events aimed at standing out in the crowd.
The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, for example, is holding rallies in Atlanta and Denver on Tuesday. AFP President Tim Phillips, who will testify at the hearing, will speak at the rally in Atlanta, along with Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett.
Unsurprisingly, the coal industry will have a major presence at the hearings. Officials with the industry group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity are scheduled to testify at all four hearings, and the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance and the Colorado Mining Association are each busing miners to the rallies in their states. The United Mine Workers of America is holding a rally in opposition to the rule on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is slated to speak at Wednesday’s hearing in Washington. He’ll then hold a news conference with members of the Congressional Coal Caucus and Jimmy Rose, a former coal miner who rose to prominence in conservative circles after singing “Coal Keeps the Lights On” on the reality show “America’s Got Talent.”
McConnell is facing a tight reelection bid in Kentucky, the nation’s third-largest coal producer, and he has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the rule. He has authored a bill to kill the regulation and he regularly warns in Senate floor speeches that it would destroy the coal industry.
Other lawmakers scheduled to testify at the hearings: Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican Senate candidate from West Virginia. After speaking at Tuesday’s hearing in Washington, Markey will hold a news conference with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Johns Hopkins University medical professor and representatives from the Latino Victory Project, Green Latinos and the Hip Hop Caucus.
But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she won’t be attending any of the hearings. “That would be pretty unprecedented,” McCarthy told reporters. “And it’s not really about me. It’s about listening to people coming in.”
And the rhetoric is already heating up.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) compared EPA’s tactics to “terrorism” Monday at a Heritage Foundation forum on the EPA.
Kelly paraphrased the infamous words of former EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz, who resigned two years ago after a video showed him saying that his enforcement philosophy was “kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
“You talk about terrorism,” Kelly said. “You can do it in a lot of different ways.”
Greens are also planning events surrounding the hearings.
The Moms Clean Air Force is organizing “play-ins” with moms and their children outside the four hearings this week. The events are aimed at underscoring the public health benefits of the rule, particularly for children.
Environmental groups sought to project a united front in support of the rule ahead of the hearings.
“It’s the biggest step we’ve ever taken against climate change, which today is already harming our health and environment,” Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said on a call with reporters Monday, referring to EPA’s climate rule.
“We can’t wait any longer to protect ourselves and future generations,” Environment America Executive Director Margie Alt added.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said he expects “busloads” of the group’s members to attend the hearings. And Beinecke said she expects doctors, farmers and mayors to attend, as well as NRDC members.
While several environmental groups have said they hope to push for improvements to the rule, expect greens to focus on their broad support for the regulation.
“Our focus at these hearings is going to be that this is an absolutely essential step forward,” Beinecke said.
Amy R. Sisk and Erica Martinson contributed to this report.