Craig More than 20 traditional energy advocates caravanned to Denver on Wednesday to attend the Environmental Protection Agency listening sessions and a rally on the state Capitol steps.
They carpooled and bused over Rabbit Ears Pass in snowy weather to get to the Front Range to express why the coal industry is important to America and Northwest Colorado.
The EPA set up hearings nationwide in its regional EPA offices to listen to input about the upcoming proposed carbon emission regulations for existing power plants that will come out in 2014. The proposed regulations for new power plants came out in September and caused controversy because of their strict rules for coal-fire power plants.
The Denver sessions had roughly 180 people testifying from states across the region, including Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. People crowded into overflowed rooms, listening to the hearings on a speakerphone. Each person who testified got three minutes to make his or her case.
Coal supporters came in from other states because the EPA decided to hold the sessions in Denver rather than in coal country.
Jerry Nettleton, chairman of the Colorado Coal Mining Association, said that it’s an example of rural America being ignored.
"It would have been so much easier if they scheduled listening sessions in coal country," he said.
But the meetings weren’t set up to avoid coal country, said Shaun McGrath, regional administrator for EPA Region Eight. The agency just decided to host listening sessions from its regional offices.
Yampa Valley coal miners, Moffat County commissioners and Craig City Council member Ray Beck spoke at the sessions.
“The bottom line is that coal is what kept the lights on. We need to continue to look for that balance, but let’s do it with common sense,” Beck said.
The EPA is getting its marching orders from the executive office. President Barack Obama asked the agency to develop carbon emission regulations for power plants to curb the release of greenhouse gases, which some cite as the cause of global warming — a controversial subject throughout the world. But Beck said it wasn’t about helping the environment.
“The EPA is acting on the government request, so they’re going to do what they’re always do. So it goes back to, what’s the president’s agenda?” he said. “I believe the president’s agenda is to rule and regulate free enterprise out of business. I think it comes down to control.”
That’s not in the EPA’s best interest, McGrath said.
“The approach that we’re taking is very much a collaborative approach,” he said. “The way the Clean Air Act is structured is it has the states play a critical role in putting together how they’re going to work to be in the guidelines with EPA. But it gives the states flexibility on how to meet those guidelines.”
Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe also presented testimony on behalf of the county.
“It’s devastating to our economy if these EPA regulations go through. We’re a small community,” he said. “We lose the power plant and coal mines, we’re really dead in the water.”
While McGrath acknowledged this potentially could put a strain on coal, he said there was opportunity for more jobs.
“The states will be very creative in working with us and working with the local economies, both to meet the clean air objectives we have and to do it in a way that will not only minimize the number of jobs that are lost but also create opportunity for economic growth,” he said.
He was glad he got to speak in favor of traditional energy but not optimistic that it would make a difference in the EPA’s decision.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t know if you’re going to make a difference. But you do it anyway,” he said.
McGrath said he wanted to work with the coal industry while protecting the environment.
“We have to take a much broader approach at jobs and the economy. We absolutely want to work with the great people of Moffat County,” he said.
After the EPA listening sessions, energy advocates made their way to the state Capitol to rally in favor of traditional energy. About 100 people stood at the base of the Capitol, and several speakers touched on why this was a crucial issue, not just for coal-producing communities but for the whole country.
“This is critical. This is a life-or-death issue for all of Colorado,” said Sean Paige, deputy state director for Americans for Prosperity-Colorado. “I hope the governor wakes up. He has some amends to make with rural Colorado. Can you imagine what America would be like without a strong energy sector?”
Supporters of traditional energy didn’t necessarily want to block the development of new energy technologies, said Frank Moe, owner of the Best Western Inn and Suites.
“In Moffat County, we have coal. We have natural gas. We have oil. We’ll soon have a solar panel array. We’re for all of the above,” he said. “We all need to realize how important all the different choices are.”
The proposed EPA regulations for existing power plants will come out in June.
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.