“I drove 350 miles this morning to voice my opposition to repealing the Clean Power Plan.”
That’s how David Lillard, who lives in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, opened his testimony to an Environmental Protection Agency panel on Wednesday, the final day of a two-day hearing about the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The Obama-era regulations, geared at keeping the U.S. in line with the Paris climate deal, put into place state-by-state guidelines for emissions reductions. Prior to the plan, no federal regulation governed the amount of carbon a power plant could pump into the atmosphere.
“I am appalled that this is the only hearing,” Lillard continued. “As a West Virginian, I am insulted by the choice of this location.” Leading up to the last EPA’s push to enact the Clean Power Plan, the agency held four hearings.
As it turns out though, even in the “heart of coal country” — as EPA administrator Scott Pruitt described Charleston in a press release announcing the hearing — a lot of people think regulating carbon emissions from the coal industry is a pretty good idea.
Over the course of the two-day hearing, over 250 people spoke, according to estimates from people on the ground. Of those, VICE News estimates about 30 voiced their support for the repeal, based on affiliations on the speaker list as well as live testimony. The rest voiced their support for the Clean Power Plan.
“Their comments echo fear and frustration about their future. Because everyone wants to take care of their families. That’s a legitimate concern,” Reverend Tony Pierce of Peoria, Illinois, who also testified at the hearing, told VICE News. But it’s a false choice, he said. “We want a fair economy that gives these folks the jobs that they deserve and that gives them the health that they are worthy of.”
A full account of the testimonies will become available in the Federal Register. The EPA did not immediately respond to VICE News for further comment.
Editor’s note 11/30 9:42 a.m. ET: After publication, a spokesperson from the EPA told VICE News the agency heard from 229 speakers, although it didn’t keep track of who was in support of or against repealing the Clean Power Plan.
During the second day of the hearing, the majority of the individual speakers, many from West Virginia, testified in favor of keeping the Clean Power Plan alive. Most of them had no direct connection to coal, while in contrast, the few who supported the repeal were largely directly affiliated with the coal industry — either employed by it or working for organizations that promote it.
Cynthia Ellis of Putnam County, West Virginia, spoke of a 10-year-old member of her extended family, Emma. “She coached me on how to use my inhaler,” said Ellis, who contracted asthma earlier this year after exposure to the exhaust from coal plants.
Aileen Curfman of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, urged the EPA to “mine the sun, the wind, and the earth’s heat.” She, too, had contracted asthma.
And Jim Waggy of Charleston, West Virginia, said he was all too familiar with non-stop lobbying from the coal industry. “The majority of the profits go to executives and shareholders out of state” he said. “These are primary reasons why West Virginia remains one of the poorest states in the nation despite the presence of coal.”
The Clean Power Plan is the only greenhouse gas regulation proposed by the EPA since the Supreme Court required the agency to regulate greenhouse gases. Since its proposal in 2015, however, the regulation hasn’t been enacted. Twenty six states, led by West Virginia’s own attorney general Patrick Morrisey, sued to keep it from going into effect.
Despite the clear presence of those in favor of keeping the Clean Power Plan at the hearing, industry voices were given top billing at the hearing. They spoke first in the only room of three at the hearing that was consistently livestreamed online.
Of the few who spoke in favor of repeal was coal baron Bob Murray, the owner of the largest privately held coal company in the country, Murray Energy. He showed up flanked by some of the miners who work for him in full uniform, who he asked to come with him, according The New Republic.
Murray urged the panel to repeal “so-called and illegal Clean Power Plan, also called the ‘No Power Plan.’”
Cover image: West Virginia Coal Miners listen to speakers at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public hearing at the W.V.Capitol in Charleston Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Charleston Gazette-Mail/Chris Dorst)