Coal Tattoo

Gina McCarthy

New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, left, takes questions from the audience after delivering a speech at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., Tuesday, July 30, 2013.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., made a very fair point yesterday, when she introduced a resolution calling on the Obama administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add another location to its list of sites for “listening sessions” on EPA’s plans to eventually issue rules to reduce global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.  In a press release, Rep. Capito said:

capito2Failing to have a listening session in West Virginia on a rule targeting the use of coal at our existing power plants is absolutely wrong. Excluding all of the states that rely on coal the most from the listening process smacks of outright arrogance by the agency and is a transparent attempt to avoid hearing opinions that differ from the EPA’s preconceived ideas. Certainly the EPA cannot expect to gather the ‘best information available’ if it ignores the opinions of states where coal is used the most to provide affordable, reliable energy. West Virginians and those in other coal states deserve a say in regulatory actions that will have such a significant impact on our jobs, our communities, and our families. I will keep working every day to give our state a voice in the decision making process.

Three years ago, I made the same point on this blog, when EPA’s original list of public hearings on coal-ash rules did not contain a true coalfield location. EPA subsequently added hearings in Pittsburgh and Louisville.

If you look at the map of EPA’s scheduled hearings on its power plant carbon dioxide rules, it’s pretty obvious that major coal-producing states — Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky — are being avoided:


On the one hand, I can understand EPA wanting to avoid West Virginia — but not because agency officials might not like some of what they would hear if they held a greenhouse gas hearing here. It’s because the when the Army Corps of Engineers held a hearing in Charleston in October 2009 on strip-mining permits, coal industry supporters showed pretty clearly that they didn’t know how to behave themselves. They shouted down everyone who disagreed with them, and there was the real possibility someone was going to get hurt.

Things went better the following hearing, when EPA held a May 2010 public hearing on the Spruce Mine veto. That’s partly because EPA prepared for the worst and, unlike the Corps of Engineers, made it clear they wouldn’t stand for disruptions that prevented anyone from having their say.

But certainly, if West Virginia’s political leaders — including Rep. Capito — toned down their overheated rhetoric on coal issues, stopped calling a policy disagreement a “war,” and encouraged coal industry supporters to be respectful of differing opinions, it might go a long way toward everyone having a more reasonable discussion and reaching better policy results.

It’s unfortunate that the only response I’ve seen from any environmental group to Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Capito and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., asking for more “listening sessions” was from a Natural Resources Defense Council official who made fun of the proposal. Other organizations that support doing something about climate change know that there are real-life consequences for citizens of the coalfields, and they’re working to try to find answers to those problems (see here and here, for example).

Maybe, just maybe, if EPA had a well-handled event here in West Virginia, the world might find out that not everyone in the state is totally against doing something about climate change or trying to work toward more clean energy.

Let’s not forget that when then-EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced a different Obama initiative aimed at the coal industry — curbs on mountaintop removal permitting — she promised the following:

Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

A listening session with EPA would give coalfield residents a chance to ask EPA what they’ve done in this regard …