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 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-08/documents/federal_register-epa-hq-oar-2009-0171-dec.15-09.pdf.
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
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
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
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