Coal country ripped into former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, during the only hearing the Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled on its plans to repeal the restrictions on power plant emissions.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey kicked off the first of two days of hearings by criticizing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan as “disastrous and unlawful.” The plan requires states to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
West Virginia led a coalition of 27 Republican attorneys general who sued Obama’s EPA over the power plan, which led to the Supreme Court staying the rule while the case works its way through the courts.
“The Clean Power Plan is one of most far reaching regulations in EPA history,” Morrisey said. “It would impose a top-down reordering of state energy economies. The power plan is unlawful and would be disastrous for West Virginia and the country as a whole.”
Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, America’s largest privately owned coal company, urged the Trump administration to repeal the power plan “in its entirety.”
“The illegal Clean Power Plan, better known as the no power plan, is a linchpin of Mr. Obama and Democrats’ War on Coal,” Murray said at the hearing Tuesday morning. “The Clean Power Plan would devastate coal-fired electricity generation in America and U.S. coal industry. It would impose massive costs on the power sector and American consumers.”
Murray, whose company is based in West Virginia, ended his testimony by saying, “I love you coal miners,” to his 30 or so employees in the audience. His emotional appeal shows the pressure the Trump administration faces from the farthest corners of his base to repeal the Clean Power Plan, without issuing a replacement.
But even the fiercest critics of the plan say EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may have no choice but to issue a more modest version of the Clean Power Plan because his agency is bound to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas under a 2009 rule known as the endangerment finding. Murray and other Trump allies want Pruitt to challenge the endangerment finding in court, but the administrator has not moved to do so. Legal and energy experts say Pruitt could be sued if he does nothing to replace the Clean Power Plan.
“The Supreme Court has legally required the EPA to regulate pollution,” said Liz Perera, the Sierra Club’s climate policy director, at Tuesday’s hearing. “The Clean Power Plan imposed reasonable requirements based on measures that states and industry are already using. Pruitt’s proposal ignores the clean energy economy is booming and will continue regardless of this administration's strategy to favor preferred industries.”
Many energy industry representatives want Pruitt to take action in some form.
They recognize that companies and states are moving away from coal even without the Clean Power Plan, opting for cheaper natural gas or renewable power because it makes economic sense to do so.
Scott Segal, director of Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents major power utilities such as Southern, Duke, and Ameren, testified that he supports a more limited regulation that would focus requiring efficiency improvements inside power plants, an approach known as “inside the fenceline.”
“While ERCC believes that absent specific guidance in legislation from the U.S. Congress, market principles are the most sound basis upon which to proceed, we nevertheless support the process advanced by EPA,” Segal said Tuesday. “Federal guidance of sufficient flexibility, and limited to actions within the fenceline, can provide regulatory certainty, diminish frivolous litigation, and can aide in planning.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, argued for “durable and achievable standards,” during Tuesday’s public hearing.
The EPA proposed to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on Oct. 10, with Pruitt saying that Obama based the plan on an expansive and illegal interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
The Clean Power Plan was the main U.S. pledge as part of the international Paris climate change agreement, which the Trump administration intends to leave.
Pruitt is expected to soon issue a notice seeking comment on how to proceed. EPA will accept comments on its proposed repeal through Jan. 16.
But Democrats and environmentalists say the EPA is not carrying out a transparent public review process.
Under the Obama administration, EPA held multi-day public hearings in four states before issuing the Clean Power Plan in 2015.
Democratic attorneys general in a half-dozen states say the EPA has not responded to their requests to hold more public hearings on the repeal and are threatening to sue if the Trump administration moves forward.
"EPA is shutting out the voices of citizens, business owners and other critical stakeholders who have legitimate concerns about repealing the Clean Power Plan,” David J. Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, which is representing the state attorneys general, said Tuesday morning.
“It behooves EPA to hold more than a single hearing in friendly territory before taking such potentially drastic action.”
These state attorneys general have sent letters to Pruitt seeking hearings in their states: Maryland’s Brian Frosh, Massachusetts' Maura Healey, Oregon's Ellen Rosenblum, Virginia’s Mark Herring, Maine's Janet Mills, and New York’s Eric Schneiderman.