Sen. Shelley Moore Capito says the Environmental Protection Agency is avoiding public meetings in her home state so it doesn't have to confront the job losses and other devastating impacts of its proposed climate regulations.
"While it may be uncomfortable for EPA officials to face the coal miners whose livelihoods are threatened by these misguided regulations, West Virginians deserve the opportunity to make their voices heard," the West Virginia Republican said in opening remarks at a field hearing she headed Monday in Beckley.
The hearing is part of the Senate GOP's aggressive oversight agenda in the Environment and Public Works Committee, aimed at facing down the impact of the EPA's proposed power-plant rules on state economies.
Capito said the hearing was planned in response to comments that acting EPA assistant administrator Janet McCabe made during a hearing last month in Washington. McCabe told Capito that the agency did not hold public hearings to vet the rule in the state because it did not feel "comfortable" going there.
"I asked her to explain why the EPA did not hold a public hearing on its proposed climate rules in West Virginia, despite the large role coal has in our economy and the multiple invitations by federal and state legislators," Capito said. EPA had held a number of public hearings in other states.
"I was shocked, and frankly, appalled by her response," Capito explained. "She told me public hearings were held where agency officials were 'comfortable' going.
"This is why I am here today, holding a field hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee," she said. "EPA will hear the voices of West Virginians on the devastating impact of their regulations on the just under 2 million, hard-working West Virginians who receive 95 percent of their electricity from coal-fired power plants."
Capito said the climate regulations would kill jobs, raise energy costs for consumers and cause grid reliability problems.
Eugene Trisko, a legal adviser to the United Mine Workers of America, testified at the field hearing. He said the power-plant rules, known as the Clean Power Plan, would be akin to dropping a "neutron bomb" on the state in terms of the collateral damage to families' livelihoods, future employment opportunities and job growth.
The EPA climate rules establish a greenhouse gas reduction target for each state to achieve by 2030. If they cannot meet the targets, they can be fined and penalized. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are considered by many scientists to be the cause of global warming and climate change.
Trisko argues that the EPA's proposed target for West Virginia is too stringent and does not adequately account for the state's coal capacity. It unfairly pressures the state to shift to solar, wind and energy efficiency to comply, which Trisko argues violates the Clean Air Act. He and other lawyers argue that the EPA is allowed to regulate only individual power plants under the air law, not a state's entire complement of electric resources, such as renewables and energy efficiency.
West Virginia and about a dozen other states are suing the EPA over the rules in federal appeals court.