Starting Tuesday, anyone who objects to new proposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants can make their complaints public — and opponents of the rules are lining up to take a shot.
The rules for existing power plants were unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) two months ago, building atop previous rules laid down for new power plants, and constitute the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s efforts to rein in America’s greenhouse gas emissions. On July 29, the agency will open up two-day-long public hearings in Atlanta, Denver, and Washington DC for anyone who has an opinion on the rules to get their thoughts heard, with further hearings in Pittsburgh July 31 and August 1.
A number of right-wing groups that receive funding from the fossil fuel industry and the Koch Brothers — the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) among others — have vociferously opposed the carbon regulations from the beginning. They’ll be bringing in supporters to both speak at the hearings and to attend various rallies scheduled to coincide with the hearings in each city. AFP in particular is planning rallies at the hearings in Atlanta, Denver, and Pittsburgh to oppose the new rules and to “educate media and rally goers about the harmful impacts on job creation and energy costs.”
“We also saw earlier this year, when the [Senate’s] Environment and Public Works committee had the four former Republican EPA administrators testify in favor of the climate rules,” said Dave Willett, a spokesperson for the League of Conservation Voters. “The room was full of miners that had been brought in.”
And while the AFP rallies tend to tonally focus on the interests of industry, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and several other coal groups have a rally planned in Pittsburgh to focus more on workers who oppose EPA’s rules. “We’re expecting quite a big turnout from folks there,” Willett continued. “They’re having a raffle for a chance to meet Dale Earnhart Jr.”
However, between the low projected costs of the regulations and their market-friendly design, the efforts EPA went to in designing the regulations to accommodate coal-dependent states and give them options, the fact that such projections tend to be too pessimistic, and that they ignore the counteracting economic benefits of cutting emissions, it’s unlikely EPA’s new rules will actually harm the economy or jobs.
“There is quite a big grassroots support on the side of the EPA rule,” Willett added. “So while there certainly will be a lot of folks from industry testifying, I still think there will be quite a healthy number of folks supporting the rule at the hearings.”
“EPA is receiving hundreds of thousands of comments showing tremendous support for this plan, which we expect to go to the millions before the comments period is over,” said Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, on a press call today with reporters.
And Margie Alt, the executive director for Environment America, added that — between the hearings and public comment periods for both the rule on new power plants and the rule on exiting power plants — EPA has received more than four million comments over the last two years in support of reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. And a number of polls in recent months, as well as longer-running polls going back to 2009, show broad public support for both these specific EPA rules, as well as federal efforts to reduce carbon emissions in general.
Bloomberg reports that interest in the hearings is intense: all the available slots in the three initial hearings have been filled, with over 1,600 people scheduled to testify. About 300,000 comments have been submitted online, and the comment period remains open until October 16. And 683 businesses and nonprofits registered to lobby the EPA this year — more than any other federal agency.
In the design phase of the rules and the run-up to their release, EPA also held 11 public listening sessions across the country, along with hundreds of different meetings with stakeholders from various industries, regions, and activist circles.
The Senate and the House will also be holding multiple hearings this week on EPA’s carbon rules themselves, as well as the broader threats posed by climate change.