Sierra Club holds hearing on Clean Power Plan

By April Keating

Mountaineer Voices for Change

On Tuesday, Nov. 28 and 29, the EPA held exactly one hearing in the entire country —  in Charleston, West Virginia, on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a plan to curb damaging carbon emissions from chiefly coal-fired plant sources. Pruitt was formerly attorney general for the state of Oklahoma. While there, he dismantled that state’s environmental protection agency. Just after being sworn into his position as head of EPA, thousands of emails were discovered showing Pruitt’s close ties to the energy industry.

The current head of the EPA stated back in March that he is not convinced of the human role in climate change, and as late as October of this year, he challenged a key assumption from an endangerment finding of 2009 which said climate change threatens the health and well being of the planet, including effects on storms, droughts, the food supply, human health, economic growth, and productivity, among other findings. The document can be found at

Sierra Club held its own hearing across the river at the University of Charleston on Tuesday. About 130 people were registered, and 50 spoke there. Some 300 had signed up for the EPA hearing. People came from as far away as Illinois and Florida. A free bus with dinner was provided by Sierra Club and picked up people at Pittsburgh, Pa., Morgantown, and Weston, W.Va. before heading into downtown Charleston and across the river. The gold-leafed capitol building, where three rooms were set aside for EPA staff to take testimony, was visible clearly from the University.

Back at UC, after introductions from Bill Price of Sierra Club and Karan Ireland of Charleston City Council and WVSUN, three experts made comment: Rev. Tony Pierce from Peoria, Illinois spoke of the moral imperative to build healthy communities; Mona Sarfaty, a physician who heads up the Program for Climate and Health at the Center for Climate Change Communication, spoke of the serious health effects of climate change; and Alan Tweddle, an engineer and businessman spoke of the economic and social costs of ignoring climate change. He talked about how his own business was doing better for having invested in energy efficiency measures, and how this had created a healthier working atmosphere with less absenteeism. All of them made the point that the future of energy jobs is in renewables.

A reporter from WSAZ Channel 3 (Charleston) asked several questions, including one intimating that CPP might somehow increase the chance of terrorism. Bill Price answered that our dependence on the grid is what makes us vulnerable, and that if we want to be truly independent, we should be supplying our own power with a decentralized grid. Rev.  Pierce pointed out that there are three major grids in the U.S., and if one goes out, almost half the country will be down.

After the press conference, a panel of experts from around the region and members of frontline communities opened the discussion and took questions from the audience. The panel included Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner from Eastern Kentucky, Joey James from Downstream Strategies (a W.Va. economic and water analysis organization), Jeremy Richardson of the Union for Concerned Scientists, Mark Magana with Green Latinos, Mike Myers from the Attorney General’s Office of New York (where fracking was banned, partly based on data from West Virginia), April Keating, from Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, representing frontline communities in central West Virginia, and Dr. Laura Anderko, PhD, RN, scholar and educator in epidemiology and public and environmental health.

Sturgill called for the CPP to be strengthened, not repealed, citing the negative health effects of coal on workers and families. Dr. Anderko spoke of the health effects on patients she has seen over the years in communities exposed to heavy metals and microfine particulates, including low birth weight and rises in childhood asthma.  Joey James of Downstream Strategies talked about the effects of fossil fuels on water and the benefits of a sustainable economy. Mark Magana spoke of the inequities of people of color, in poverty, and others living in or near areas with environmental degradation brought on by extractive industry. Many of these communities bear the brunt of coal and gas waste, especially coal-producing counties like Logan, where the Buffalo Creek coal slurry impoundment burst in 1972, showering millions of gallons of sludge on that community, and the poisoning of water in places like Fayette County caused by the injection of waste underground from the gas fields up north.  Shuttles ran all day back and forth who wanted to go to the “official” hearing and testify, and many did. The list ran the gamut from young mothers to retired coal miners, Catholics to lawyers. Keating was present at both the Sierra Club hearing and at one of the hearings in the capitol and heard no one speaking in favor of the repeal. Many spoke about the serious health ramifications of climate change, methane being one of the strongest offenders, with 86x the warming potential of CO2. Coal miners sat in the audience but did not speak, and coal CEO Robert Murray called the plan illegal, even though it is not.  Keating also took the shuttle to the capitol to make her case, and made sure to let the judges know that they have a moral imperative to protect the lives of all people, even poor folk in West Virginia. “Doctors, police, clergy, and health professionals all have a duty to do no harm. This can and should apply to our energy production, or government, our schools, medical establishments, indeed our entire society. It begs the question: what kind of society do we want? If rewarding the rich for profit gained at any cost is our goal, we don’t need to do anything different. Our vision is built on theories of human rights – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What about water, air, and soil — jobs that don’t kill us, products that don’t poison our food, energy that doesn’t toxify and consume our water? West Virginia is ground zero for the fossil fuel industry; they use our land, resources and our people – not so we can benefit, but so they can. Some of us may remember a proverb from the Christian tradition: ‘So as you do to the least of these, so you do unto me.’ If we can’t take care of our most vulnerable, what kind of society do we have?”

Kevin Campbell of Sierra Club (Upshur County) was present at both hearings and gave his testimony to the EPA as well. At the capitol, he heard eight opponents of the repeal and two advocates speak. He reports the following: “I spoke of everyone in W.Va. knowing people who are dying from environmental pollution, that West Virginia has 3,000 excess deaths a year now. The CPP is weak and needs to be expanded to oil and gas infrastructure. Our grandchildren are going to have shorter lives, corporate profits are not more important than the health of millions, and our senators are part of the problem because they are bought and paid for by the industries we have to fight just to breathe.”  The CPP, by the current administration’s own estimates, could prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed days of work or school per year. And it’s a job-creator. Analysis from E2, a non-partisan energy group that promotes smart policies good for the economy and the environment, shows it would create 560,000 jobs and boost GDP by over $50 billion in 2030. Testimony taken at the Sierra Club hearing will be submitted to the EPA a part of the official record.  The comment period is open until Jan. 16, and people are encouraged to make comments through the deadline. Go to to make comments.