The People Speak about the Clean Power Plan

By John McFerrin

From all over West Virginia, they came.  From around the country, they came.  With a stubborn determination to say something, even when you know nobody is listening, they came.  There was a hint of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, mixed with a belief that if you continue to speak the truth things can eventually change.

The occasion was the public hearing on whether or not the United States Environmental Protection Agency should abolish the Clean Power Plan.  The Clean Power Plan is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Under the Plan, each state is required to develop a plan on how it intends to achieve the emission reductions.

The Clean Power Plan was an Obama era initiative, part of his plan to fight climate change by limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  President Trump, on the other hand, is skeptical about climate change.  Earlier this year he signed an Executive Order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate it.

The EPA could not, however, just eliminate the rule by fiat.  Duly enacted rules must go through a process before they can be repealed. When there is public interest, the process includes a public hearing when the agency can at least pretend that it is interested in what the public has to say.

Since there had been considerable public interest, the EPA had announced that, as part of its deliberations on scrapping the Clean Power Plan, it wanted to hear what the public had to say.  This bought us to Charleston on November 28 and 29.

Hearing or no hearing, scrapping the Clean Power Plan was the donest of deals.  Mr. Trump had campaigned on abolishing it. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency he had appointed Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma where he had spent his career being solicitous of the needs of the oil industry in general and opposing the Clean Power Plan specifically.  Mr. Trump had held a signing ceremony, complete with coal miner props, for his Executive Order directing the EPA to eliminate the Clean Power Plan.

Yet still people came.  A woman came from Arlington, Virginia, to make the point that it Mr. Obama did not start a war on coal; it was the market.  Someone came from Tennessee to support the Clean Power Plan.  There were people from Ohio and somebody from Maryland, someone from Washington, D.C., another from North Carolina, a college student from Colorado.  From West Virginia there were people from Parkersburg to Martinsburg to Lincoln County to Dry Fork and our own West Virginia Highlands Conservancy President Cindy Ellis.

Organizations were there to support the Plan.  The West Virginia Council of Churches, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the West Virginia Catholic Conference, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Sustainable Communities were there.  The American Civil Liberties Union came to oppose repeal of the Plan as a social justice issue.  The NAACP environmental justice climate program came to support the Plan,  The Rev. Rose Edington of WV Interfaith Power and Light in Charleston brought a Biblical reference with her comment: “We, this state, our nation, our planet, need the Clean Power Plan, and we fear its repeal and the bleakness that would bring to our lives. In 2015, many of us celebrated this hopeful plan. We do not want to lose our clean air for the proverbial mess of pottage.”

There were also representatives of other states.  Officials from both Connecticut and New York were there to support the Clean Power Plan.  They have already begun implementing it in their states and believe it is a workable solution to the problem of climate change.

People had to come to West Virginia to speak because this was the only public hearing in the country on the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan.  At the time the Plan was first proposed there was some grumbling that there were no hearings in West Virginia.  The nominal reason for having this hearing in West Virginia was so that the EPA could hear from coal country.  An equally plausible explanation is that EPA wanted to have a pep rally for coal in this Trumpiest state and then be able to announce that what it had already decided to do was the will of the people.

The coal industry did its part.  Bob Murray, of Murray Energy, was there with a substantial contingent of his miners in tow.  They wore their hard hats, just in case anybody should not know what they did for a living.  He testified in favor of repealing the Clean Power Plan while suggesting that God should bless President Trump.  Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito sent messages, as did Representatives Evan Jenkins and Alex Mooney.

Many Voice stories end with an admonition to stay tuned.  There is often another appeal, more hearings, questions of whether something will be enforced, etc.  With the Clean Power Plan, we can stick a fork in it.  It’s done.

The only thing to stay tuned for is to see what EPA will do next.

It has to do something.  In 2007 the United States Supreme Court ruled, in effect, that it had a duty to regulate greenhouse gasses.  In response to that ruling, EPA determined that greenhouse gasses “in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.”  Even if it has decided that the Clean Power Plan was not the way to discharge that duty, it has to do something.  Stay tuned to see what it does.

Elections Have Consequences

Chris Hamilton, of the West Virginia Coal Association, at the hearing on the repeal of the Clean Power Plan:

“You talk about being a little conflicted. After 40 years busting on the agency that issued the repeal of this Clean Power Plan and after 40 years of being critical of a lot of their overreaching actions, all of a sudden today our group is saying ‘We love the EPA. We’re so thankful for you being here. We’re so thankful for you taking the steps to repeal this onerous job-killing program and regulation.”