Environmentalists flood EPA hearing on carbon rules in Denver

DENVER — As two days of hearings on the Obama administration’s proposal to curb carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030, environmentalists and industry groups made their cases — in the hearing room and all across town.

While clean energy companies and mothers standing alongside firefighters pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the strongest rule possible to address climate change and improve air quality, Republicans stood with representatives of Colorado’s coal industry in the shadows of the state Capitol at a rally organized by Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity and called for the administration to drop a proposal they believe will cost jobs.

Meanwhile, inside a hearing room on the second floor of the gleaming new EPA headquarters at 16th and Wynkoop in Lower Downtown, hundreds of people, each allowed just five minutes, put their feelings on the record.

The heart of the matter: weighing the potential short-term economic costs with the likely long-term costs of inaction.

“It is far cheaper to act strongly now,” said state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, one of the first people to testify in support of the proposal Tuesday morning.

The proposal is an existential threat to the more than 600 coal power plants across the country.

Under the proposed rule, states will be given flexibility about how to achieve the pollution cuts. Instead of immediately shutting down coal plants, states could choose to reduce emissions by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

Looking to combat fears about the economic impact on the industry, the Obama administration Tuesday released a study showing that failing to adequately reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change could cost the United States economy $150 billion a year

While many argued against the rules on the grounds they go too far — Moffat County Commissioner John Kincaid testified that the administration is waging a “war on coal” — others argued that they don’t do enough.

“This rule is just a mere lean in the right direction. It’s just not going to work for us,” said Stanley Sturgell, a retired Kentucky coal miner with black lung disease and COPD who flew himself to Denver to testify. Your targets for reducing pollution by 2030 are way too low and do not do enough to reduce our risk from climate change.

“We’re dying — literally dying — for you to help us.”

The hearing itself was dominated by environmental advocates pushing the administration to take action.

Meanwhile, the industry made its opposition known at a noon rally in Lincoln Park across from the Capitol.

“Barack Obama these are real Americans and real American jobs,” yelled Bob Beauprez, the GOP nominee for governor. “Keep your hands off our jobs, off our families, off our dignity of work!”

Many in Moffat County, where the Twenty Mile Coal plant is the heart of the local economy, also see the EPA rule as a matter of life and death — for the local economy.

“The coal mines are pretty much our entire economy,” said Brandi Meek, a mother of two and the Moffat County GOP chair.

Mary Frontczak, an executive with Peabody Energy Americas, the company that operates the Twenty Mile plant, said that the EPA’s plan would make a miniscule difference when it comes to climate change at far too high a cost to her industry and its employees.

“This proposal needs to be withdrawn and there’s overwhelming support for that,” Frontczak said.  “We’re going to do something that’s not going to have any benefit but will hurt our own people in this country.”