Coal miners descend on Pittsburgh to protest EPA hearing

Source: Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014

PITTSBURGH — Several thousand coal miners, other union workers and supporters flooded the streets here in opposition to U.S. EPA’s proposals to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Action in the streets, including a smaller presence by climate activists, overshadowed the agency’s daylong listening session on the regulations on the 13th and 15th floors of the federal building downtown.

Police arrested more than a dozen union activists, including United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts for sitting in front of the building’s steps in protest.

Many of the workers here, bused in from several states, helped usher President Obama to the White House but are now opposing one of his signature efforts.

Roberts, hoarse from speaking loudly during a rally at the convention center, railed against rich Democratic donors who support the president’s Climate Action Plan. He called EPA rulemaking “stinkin’, rotten” to loud cheers.

Roberts, accusing the administration of jeopardizing U.S. competitiveness and selling out workers, said, “I’m probably going to lose some friends over this. But you know what, they weren’t my friends to start with.

“Everybody likes to go to the White House, and I do too. I like to know powerful people,” he added. “But you know what, there’s an old union song, ‘Which side are you on? Which side are you on?'”

Workers with the UMWA and other unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, cheered Roberts and other leaders, wearing shirts saying, “Stop The War on Coal” and “We Are One.”

Before marching a few blocks from the convention center to the listening session venue, union leaders urged workers to remain nonviolent. But they said 14 activists were prepared for arrest.

Inside the relatively staid listening sessions, supporters of EPA’s oversight sat next to vehement opponents in an effort to move the agency’s regulatory needle in their direction. They were armed with well-worn arguments.

EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin opened the conversation by highlighting the overarching issue. “Science tells us that climate change is real and that human activity is fueling that change,” he said.

Garvin also talked about EPA’s outreach efforts. “We heard that flexibility is key, so we maximized choices states can build for themselves,” he said. “We allowed states to work together or go it alone, whatever is better for them.”

But Vince Brisini, deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, called the proposed flexibility “illusory” and said lawmakers should be making energy policy decisions.

West Virginia Republican state Del. Cindy Frich said, “We need to focus on real pollutants, not carbon. I believe this is economic suicide.”

West Virginia House of Delegates Republican hopeful Michael Moffat said, “Coal is West Virginia. Coal really impacts every single one of the 1.8 million residents of our great state.”

EPA predicts coal will continue being a major energy source for years to come. Yet, John Pippy, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, said the agency’s rulemaking will “significantly eliminate coal from the portfolio.”

Gary Wire, a retired materials scientist and climate activist, said fighting climate change will promote technological innovation and jobs. “This action will send a strong signal that climate change denial is no longer viable in this country,” he told EPA.

Former Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, unseated in the 2010 Republican wave and now Erie County, Pa., executive, thanked Obama for the proposal. “We do not have to choose between the health of our citizens and the health of our economy,” she said.

And National Wildlife Federation advocate Frank Szollosi, sitting with his two daughters, expressed concerns about increasing algae blooms in the Great Lakes.

“This standard is going to impact them and their generation and future generations far more than it will impact those in the room today,” he told EPA. “Your proposed targets can and should be strengthened.”

But many pro-coal advocates are still raw about EPA not holding sessions closer to the coal fields. West Virginia Secretary of State and Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant said, “The White House and EPA has chosen to snub West Virginia, but West Virginia will not be ignored.”

Garvin assured the crowd, “We want no stone unturned and no good idea off the table. There are no special comments and no special groups.”