Energy activists swarm Atlanta for EPA power plant rule hearings

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014

More than 1,000 clean-air advocates are en route to Atlanta.

Those against U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon rules for existing power plants will be there in full force, too.

Both sides have planned a host of rallies and press conferences throughout Tuesday’s daylong hearings in Atlanta, the center of EPA’s Region 4.

And, to add some more last-minute drama, the agency Friday officially moved the two-day hearings down the street. This is because the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center remained without electricity for the fifth day in a row.

“Everyone is going all out,” said Jenna Garland, deputy press secretary for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

A schedule of clean-air and environmental events started circulating in the middle of last week. They include a “Moms Clean Air Force” rally at 9:30 a.m., a news conference with a coalition of environmental groups at 10 a.m. and a “Stop the EPA Power Grab” rally at noon.

“We look at it as an opportunity to have ‘people power,'” Garland told EnergyWire. “We know these coal companies have really deep pockets, they can buy a lot of advertising time and hire lobbyists. This is to demonstrate that there are 1,000 people willing to take off work, not go to school … to be visibly present and support the climate.”

The Southeast arm of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is holding a separate news conference downtown starting at 8 a.m. The industry-backed CEA, self-described as the “voice of the energy consumer,” supports increased use of natural gas as a way to keep energy prices low for consumers.

The list of speakers at CEA’s event include Georgia utility regulators, chamber executives, the president of the Alabama AFL-CIO and the chairman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.

“Everything that we do or don’t do in the energy field impacts the ratepayers, so I understand the rule out of Washington and what they are trying to do,” Georgia utility regulator Stan Wise said in an interview. “What you’re hearing from the five commissioners in varying degrees of upset is that it impacts the reliability, it impacts our diversity, it impacts the costs.”

Broadly, EPA is asking states to meet carbon-emission targets that would result in a 30 percent CO2 reduction nationwide compared with 2005 levels by 2030. Each state has its own goal, and there are four main target areas, including adding nuclear energy and reducing demand through energy efficiency, to get there.

There’s been plenty of pushback from the Southeast, where utilities are heavily regulated and once got the bulk of their electricity from coal (EnergyWire, June 3). The Southeast also is the only region where states are actively building nuclear reactors, and more may be on the way (EnergyWire, June 9).

Some states, including Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee, also are adding solar or have plans to do so (EnergyWire, April 15). Mississippi has aggressive energy efficiency policies, but the rest of the Southeast lags behind in that area (EnergyWire, June 26).

The battle already has been playing out on Twitter. Environmental groups including the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance and GreenLaw are talking up the scheduled climate rallies.

“Submit written comments in support of @EPA #Carbon Goals. Less than 1% of pop. has done it! Be a voice for change,” read a tweet from GreenLaw.

Georgia utility regulator Tim Echols, one of the more active commissioners in social media and a vocal opponent of the EPA rule, made the rounds in traditional media and on Twitter.

“All five of your #gapsc commissioners locked & loaded to blast the #epa rule under consideration right now. Join me for a rally Tues at 12,” he said in a tweet last week.

EPA changed the location of the hearing to the Omni Hotel at CNN Center after it remained unclear whether the federal building would have electricity today.

“While repairs are underway at the Federal Center, there is no guarantee the facility will be fully operational in time for the hearings,” EPA said in an email to registered speakers.

EPA employees scheduled to work in the federal building were placed on administrative leave unless they previously were scheduled for leave, teleworking or official travel, according to the agency’s website.

Garland said Friday that the environmental coalition would change the location of its news conference as well.