Clean Power Plan Hearings: Powerful Voices Against Repeal

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt might have hoped he could get by with one hearing on repealing the Clean Power Plan in coal country, that he'd get an outpouring of public support for rolling back climate protections, and that he could avoid facing the public in other parts of the country, None of this held true.

When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan—the largest step yet taken to curb America’s climate-changing carbon pollution—he scheduled a single public hearing, in Charleston, West Virginia, last November and allowed a short period for public comment that was intended to wrap up next Tuesday. 

Pruitt might have hoped that a hearing in coal country would yield an outpouring of public support for rolling back climate protections, that his agency could avoid facing the public in other parts of the country, and that he could get by with a minimalist approach to public comment. None of this held true.

More than 250 witnesses appeared at the Charleston hearing, and more than 80 percent of them supported keeping the Clean Power Plan instead of trashing it. And state and local officials and a wide variety of public health, civic, and environmental voices demanded Pruitt hold more public hearings on this critical national policy decision.

In reaction to Pruitt’s miserly approach, officials in New York, Delaware, and Maryland scheduled “People’s Hearings” of their own.  Hundreds more Americans came to these hearings, held over the course of this week, to voice their opposition to the Clean Power Plan’s repeal, by margins even more lopsided than in West Virginia. 

On Tuesday in New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill De Blasio hosted a public hearing at which more than 90 percent of the speakers argued against repealing the Clean Power Plan. Their hearing followed announcement of new steps by Governor Andrew Cuomo to move the Empire State towards clean energy and lower carbon pollution.   NRDC was there, and our witnesses spoke out against Pruitt’s plans to go backwards. As NRDC Climate and Clean Energy Policy Analyst Kevin Steinberger put it, Pruitt’s proposal  “attempts to sow confusion about the benefits of reducing air pollution. However, the reality is clear: The Clean Power Plan would cut emissions, protect public health, and result in tremendous economic and societal benefits.”    

Dr. Vijay Limaye, NRDC’s Climate Change and Health Science Fellow, stated, “There is no graver, far-reaching, or urgent public health challenge than climate change, a global threat with impacts that reach into our local communities at this moment, not in some distant future. To reduce this threat, we must oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.”

At Monday's hearing in Delaware, Governor John Carney testified against the repeal stating: “CPP builds on experiences of the states who have already begun enacting clean energy policies—Delaware chief among them. Moving ahead with the Clean Power Plan is of particular importance to Delaware, given EPA’s failure to directly address emissions from power plants that impact Delaware’s air quality.” Senator Tom Carper also added his strong opposition, citing the disproportionate impact of climate change and air pollution on his low-lying state.

Bruce Ho, NRDC Senior Energy Advocate, emphasized that “real‐world experience confirms that we can cut carbon pollution, grow our economy, and create jobs. Since 2009, Delaware has participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the nation’s first market to cut carbon pollution. Together with Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, Delaware has cut carbon pollution from the region’s power plants by more than 40 percent.”

Yesterday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the Maryland General Assembly hosted another people’s hearing. As Amanda Levin, NRDC Energy and Climate Analyst, pushed back on Pruitt’s cooling the books on the science and economics: “In its repeal proposal, EPA used questionable methods to severely deflate the benefits of climate action and downplay the magnitude of public health benefits from this rule.”  

Juanita Constible, Senior Advocate for Climate and Health at NRDC, emphasized the public health benefits from carbon reduction policies: “Maryland’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative helped residents avoid up to 81 early adult deaths, more than 1,000 asthma attacks, and close to 5,000 missed work days from 2009 to 2014.”  

Khalil Shahyd, NRDC Senior Policy Advocate, added: “For every dollar invested in energy efficiency for low‐income families, two dollars are put back into the economy through energy savings and increased income from job creation. In fact, energy efficiency already accounts for more than 2.2 million jobs across the nation, which is ten times more than oil and gas drilling, and thirty times more than coal mining.” 

And Lissa Lynch, NRDC Staff Attorney, explained why Pruitt’s proposed Clean Power Plan repeal would break the law: “If the Administrator repeals the Clean Power Plan without issuing a replacement rule that achieves meaningful emissions reductions to adequately address power plants’ disproportionate contribution to the climate threat, he will violate the Clean Air Act’s mandate to protect public health and the environment.”

States will continue to lead on carbon reducing policies, but Deron Lovaas, NRDC’s Senior Policy Advisor, explained why the EPA must act: “Neither Maryland nor the RGGI states can solve climate change on their own. Carbon pollution from other states continues to cause harm to all. We need leadership from our federal government to ensure every state does its part to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”

You can find all the NRDC testimony here.

Pruitt himself came to the conclusion that he needs to slow down, hold more EPA hearings, and allow more time for public input. This week he announced three more “listening sessions” (they’re the same as hearings), to be held in Kansas City on February 21, San Francisco on February 28, and Gillette, Wyoming on March 27. 

The deadline for submitting public comments has been extended to April 26—though you don’t have to wait to join the 185,000 people who have already spoken up by adding your voice here.

Clearly, Pruitt’s plan to stop meaningful climate action isn’t what the American people want, isn’t what’s good for our communities and economy and most important isn’t what will protect us and our families from climate chaos. Will he ever take that to heart?