CHARLESTON, W. Va. (CN) – Coal miners and other industry supporters faced off against environmentalists Tuesday at a public hearing on the Trump administration’s plan repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
The hearing, hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency, is the only scheduled hearing on the policy reversal in Charleston, capital of a state heavily dependent on coal mining.
The hearing was expected to last through Wednesday.
The Obama administration created the Clean Power Plan to decrease use of carbon-based fossil fuels, like coal, but was never implemented due to a series of lawsuits filed by coal companies and coal-dependent states.
Among those who challenged the plan was current EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the federal government when he was serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
Bob Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, said “the Clean Power Plan would devastate coal-fired electricity generation in America. This would impose massive costs on the power sector and on American consumers.”
Murray’s company employs 5,200 miners and has 14 active coal mines. He was a prominent backer of President Trump during the 2016 campaign, giving more than $200,000 to Trump’s election efforts and hosting an invitation-only Trump fundraiser in West Virginia.
Energy Information Administration numbers show that while power generated by coal fell by 226,000 gigawatt-hours between 2014 and 2015, the amount of power generated by natural gas rose by 208,000 gigawatt-hours. Furthermore, coal’s market share fell from 50 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2016, an 18 percent decrease.
Dr. Mona Sarfaty, speaker for the Medical Society Consortium and opponent of the repeal, said children who breathe polluted air “literally have less lung capacity. We have also learned that while babies develop in utero while their mothers breathe polluted air are more likely to be born premature or low birth weight.”
The Medical Society Consortium, which represents 19 medical societies including The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Academy of Family Physicians, are opposed to the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. According to their statement to the EPA, they are opposed to its termination because it is a choice that puts American lives at greater risk from unhealthy air and the health harms caused by climate change.
“An earlier EPA analysis of the Clean Power Plan found it to be a crucial tool to clean polluted air, thus preventing premature mortality … through the Medical Society Consortium, more than half the nation’s doctors have come together to help the public understand that combating climate change will improve the health of Americans now and into the future,” Sarfaty said.
“Specifically, climate change is directly harming our health through reduced air quality, severe heat waves, extreme storms and rainfall, the spread of disease carried by mosquitoes and ticks, and flooding due to rising sea levels.”
Other opposing voices included Susannah Tuttle and Michelle Peedim, clergy members from North Carolina, who insisted that it is the church’s responsibility to protect the environment and the children on this planet.
A group of mother activists, calling themselves Mothers Clean Air Force, including Karina Castillo from Florida and Lyndsay Pace of Tennessee, also spoke during the hearing.
“As a mom, I do everything I can to protect my children,” Pace said. “When we go in a car, I make sure to buckle up them and myself. I take them to the doctor for their checkups, but what I can’t do is ensure that the air that they are breathing while playing is safe for their tiny, developing lungs.”
Castillo said communities of color, especially Latino communities like her own, are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of air pollution.
“Nationally, 1 in 2 Latinos in the US live in counties with the worst air pollution. Latinos make up roughly 1 in 4 workers in agriculture and construction, making them more vulnerable to the effects of heat and global warming … The Clean Power Plan is a public health plan that affects all Latinos,” Castillo said.
David Brock, leader of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice League, also spoke about how the Clean Power Plan protects minority communities.
Brock said 68 percent of black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant but receive less than 1 percent of coal revenue and suffer double the amount of asthma deaths than whites.
Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association and a proponent of the repeal, said former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted that implementing of the plan would result in less than a 1 percent decrease in global carbon emissions, but would cost taxpayers “billions of dollars.”
“The Clean Power Plan is all name and no game,” Gonet said. “Repeal of the plan will stop further unemployment, saving 240 million tons of coal production annually which safeguards over 27,000 mining jobs.”
Virginia resident Bobby May described himself as a survivor of what he called “Obama’s war on coal.”
“Unlike some speakers here today, I wasn’t told to come here today,” May said. “We don’t work for the government or special interest groups. We came here because we love our communities, we love coal, coal mining, coal jobs, and most importantly our coal families. I am the son of a coal miner and I am proud to say I am also the father of a coal miner. “
“Coal puts food on the table for my family, it puts clothes on the backs of my grandchildren and it puts food in their bellies,” May continued. “I thank God that EPA Director Scott Pruitt is moving in the right direction. I thank God for the election of President Donald Trump.”