Critics of Proposed EPA Regulations Flock to Denver for Hearing

Nov 4, 2013

EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Credit Elizabeth Wynne Johnson (CC BY)

Last Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing in Denver on its upcoming carbon dioxide regulations for power plants.

The EPA has already issued a proposal for new plants, and is now turning its attention to existing power plants, which will have a bigger impact on emissions since few new coal plants being built.

Although coal isn’t burned in the North Fork Valley, the region’s three mines provide the fuel to many power plants around the country that could be affected. Emily Guerin reports on who came out to the Denver hearing, and what they had to say.

The coal miners, power plant and utility workers had traveled from as far as Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota to give the EPA this message: don’t regulate carbon dioxide.

Because Congress has been unable to pass a climate change bill, President Obama has asked the EPA to step in. Now, the agency is drafting the first-ever regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, to be released next June.

The EPA is starting by holding eleven listening sessions in different cities to find out what people think about regulating CO2. But other than Denver, most of the locations are far from areas where coal is mined and burned. That bothers people like Jessica Unruh, a North Dakota state senator who traveled to Denver.

“Holding meetings in locations far from those that will be most impacted by your regulations disenfranchises from the process people whose livelihoods will be directly affected,” she said.

Many people worried the regulations would make electricity more expensive. Others said coal-fired power plants would be forced to close if they couldn’t afford expensive carbon dioxide capture technology.

“These regulations are also job and economy killers,” said Toby Violet, a coal plant employee from Montana. “Good paying jobs, lots of good paying jobs. I think the benefits of coal are tremendous.”

But others, like Denver resident Scott Brayden, pointed out that climate change is already harming the American economy. 

“We have seen an increase in erratic and extreme weather, fires, drought, floods, extreme heat, and this has had a real cost,” Brayden said.

“With all due respect to the thousands of people who are impacted by any regulation, the impacts of what I’ve just described have impacted billions of people.”

Some people, like Lloyd Bushong with the Lignite Energy Council in North Dakota, worried about previous investments in pollution controls that be wasted if carbon regulations force coal plants to close.

“EPA regulations must not cause premature closures of coal units, resulting in stranded investment in emission controls.,” Bushong said.

Others told EPA it was focusing too much on coal, and ignoring the water pollution and CO2 emissions caused by the natural gas industry.

Still others worried no amount of carbon dioxide regulations in the United States would make a difference, as long as the demand for coal is still high in China and other countries.

Denver resident Josh Phillips offered his response to that argument.

“The US, and specifically Colorado, has a chance to be a real leader in reducing carbon emissions,” Phillips said. “It is that pioneering sprit that made our country great and made our state a leader in moving towards a green energy future.

Environmental groups were mostly absent from the debate, leaving regular people like Phillips to make their arguments for them.

But as the EPA tour swings through left-leaning cities like Seattle and San Francisco, those in favor of carbon dioxide regulations may become the louder voice in the room.