Craig resident Ray Beck addresses the crowd Tuesday afternoon near the state Capitol in Denver. Beck and many other Northwest Colorado residents turned out to support the coal industry during the Environmental Protection Agency's hearings.

Photo by Lauren Blair

Craig resident Ray Beck addresses the crowd Tuesday afternoon near the state Capitol in Denver. Beck and many other Northwest Colorado residents turned out to support the coal industry during the Environmental Protection Agency's hearings.

Hundreds of Northwest Colorado residents rally for coal in Denver

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On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration proposed new regulations for coal-fired power plants.

Before rules can be implemented, a series of public hearings must take place, and Northwest Colorado residents jumped at the chance be seen at a rally in Denver during those hearings.

The Yampa Valley houses two coal-fired power plants — Hayden Station and Craig Station — and has three coal mines that support a large chunk of the economies in Northwest Colorado. Coal miners, power plant workers and a group called Friends of Coal headed to Denver for a rally, supporting the industry.

The ride

Miners and community members gathered in the Kmart parking lot early Tuesday morning to board a fleet of buses to Denver to rally in support of coal.

At first there were three, then four, and by departure time, five buses that lined the lot where Moffat County residents piled into their seats, eager to get to the Front Range so that their views could represented near the hearings being held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday and Wednesday in Denver.

“We’ve been fighting for this for years, and it’s great to see people finally getting on board with it,” said Moffat County GOP Chair Brandi Meek, who also attended and spoke at the rally.

The five-bus caravan stopped in Hayden and Steamboat Springs to pick up more supporters. The four-hour drive to Denver provided ample time for banter among those on board, mostly employees of Twentymile Mine and their families. The miners were offered a paid day of work to attend the rally in lieu of a scheduled furlough day.

Supporters back in Moffat County see snag

While many residents of Northwest Colorado were able to attend Friends of Coal rally Tuesday afternoon as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s hearings in Denver, others in the area were there in spirit.

The plans for those in Craig gathered at the Clarion Inn & Suites to telecommunicate with the crowd across the state did not quite go as planned. After a brief Skype session with local organizer Frank Moe in Denver, the Internet streaming of the rally’s activities near the state Capitol was unavailable. Members of furniture and electronics retailer Aaron’s were on hand to work with the equipment but were unable to overcome the technological difficulties from the video intended to be available through the Americans for Prosperity website.

Alesha Miner, an Aaron’s sales manager and a supporter of Friends of Coal’s initiatives, said it was disheartening to be prevented from taking part in the effort this way.

“It looked like it was a great turnout for us (in Denver) from what we got to see of it,” she said.

This lack of connectivity seems to sum up the relationship between Moffat County and the more urban parts of Colorado, which necessitated the rally in the first place, Miner said.

“We need somebody to represent us down there because a lot of people on the other side of the mountains don’t even realize that we’re here and that if something were to happen to the mining community, it would put this town out of business,” she said.

— Andy Bockelman, Craig Daily Press

Through the eyes of a miner

Morale was high on the ride to the big city, as the paid day away from the mine as provided an opportunity to attend the rally. Miners Drew Richards, John Simonet, William Litsinger, Jerry Largent and Toby Montoya sat near one another in the back of the third bus. They joked with and ribbed at one another in a brotherly fashion; the camaraderie between them was evident.

“We spend more time with people underground than we do with our own families,” said Montoya, a fourth-generation coal miner of 37 years. Montoya has worked at Twentymile for six years.

“It’s a family,” he said about the miners.

Largent, whose career has included work at 12 mines, explained, “It’s a whole different world underground.”

Simonet, a Twentymile miner of six years, chipped in, “It’s kind of a like its own small town.” The mine comes complete with its own infrastructure, service units and even a unique vocabulary, unrecognizable to a layman unfamiliar with the underground mine.

The unusual circumstances of spending upward of 12 hours each day inside the earth create a unique sort of bond between the miners. The rally served as a galvanizing force for their shared experiences and a way of life that is unknown to most.

But it was all seriousness when it came down to the day’s business. Most of the miners would not call themselves political activists, just people who want to make a secure living for themselves and their families.

Simonet moved his family to Craig in 2008 from Phoenix after the housing market crashed and he was out of a job in the construction industry. His mother-in-law in Craig suggested he apply for a job at the mine.

“I thought this was going to be a secure job, but with everything going on now, I don’t know if this is a secure job,” Simonet said. “My greatest fear is not being able to support my family.”

The Clean Power Plan

The hearings in Denver on Tuesday and Wednesday are part of an effort the EPA is making to “provide the opportunity for interested parties to comment on the proposed rule before it takes effect,” according to a EPA press release. Other hearings also are taking place in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Atlanta this week.

The public comment period ends Oct. 16, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is required to have its carbon emissions recommendations to the EPA by June 2016.

The purpose of the plan is “to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. EPA predicts that when the proposed plan is fully implemented in 2030, carbon emissions from these sources will be 30 percent below 2005 levels,” the EPA said.

Although many in Northwest Colorado — an others in the coal industry — feel that the EPA wants to kill coal, the agency has a different take.

“Coal will remain a critical part of America’s energy mix for the foreseeable future. EPA’s carbon pollution proposal provides each state with enormous flexibility in determining how to meet its pollution reduction goals, and does not mandate the retirement of any coal plants,” the EPA said in a statement to the newspaper.

Shaping outcomes

The big news of the day came early via an impromptu meeting between Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid and Regional EPA Administrator Sean McGrath at 10 a.m. Tuesday, immediately after Kinkaid’s testimony at the hearings.

“I asked them if they would come to Moffat County for a listening tour, and they jumped right on it,” Kinkaid said.

Not one to miss a beat, he continued on to ask McGrath, “And while you’re there, will you do a tour of the power plant?”

McGrath agreed, and the date is to be set sometime in September. The purpose of the listening tour is for the EPA to explain to the people of Moffat County what the proposed rules and regulations actually look like. The EPA also agreed to consider inviting elected state officials and local business leaders, as well as a representative from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the Westminster-based company that owns Craig Station.

“If they’re going to be making decisions that impact us, they really need to be coming out to the areas that are impacted,” Meek said about the proposed listening tour.

In sum, according to Ray Beck, CLUB 20 ambassador and a speaker at the rally Tuesday, “I think that it was a productive day, and it was probably more than I even hoped for. Now, what will happen, you know, the devil’s in the details. What the results of this is going to be, we don’t know at this point. But we came here with the right intentions.”

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