Individuals and business representatives from around the region on Tuesday voiced their opinions on how Pennsylvania should prepare for implementing stricter federal environmental regulations — what some said is anti-business and part of the “war on coal” and a handful said is a critical improvement.
As required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection is mandated to create a plan to meet new carbon pollution emissions guidelines for existing electric utility gathering units in a move known as the Clean Power Plan.
The goal, according to the agency, is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent by 2030.
The state department is gathering public comments in sessions across the state as well as accepting mailed and emailed comments, DEP Secretary John Quigley said.
“The governor wants us to listen first and write second,” he said. “This is an exercise in democracy.”
While the federal government has mandated the reduction, it is up to states to develop a plan to achieve those guidelines, Quigley said. So far a diverse base of organizations and businesses offered ideas — and opinions about the federal mandates. The state has a broad mix of energy sources to consider, Quigley said.
“We are looking at all the options now,” he said. “We haven’t taken anything off the table.”
A comment-gathering session at Pitt-Johnstown on Tuesday, which garnered about 20 speakers and a crowd of about 60, was one of 14 to be held around the state through Nov. 14.
Rosebud Mining President Cliff Forrest discussed the strain that increasingly strict regulations have placed on the region’s coal companies. Rosebud employs more than 1,000 at 23 underground coal mines, seven surface mines and seven preparation plants.
The company — and other companies like it — already made significant investments to comply with the federal law that includes the updates, the Clean Air Act. Trying to achieve a level of emissions that Forrest said is technically unachievable puts those investments and jobs in jeopardy, he said.
“There are now only seven coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania,” he said.
“If the Clean Power Plan is implemented, only two would be likely to survive.”
The result, he said, would be more lost jobs in the coal industry and decreased available energy, leading to blackouts. He also suggested the state should follow 11 other states in suing the federal government over the upcoming changes.
“We need real science, not political science,” he said. “We need real engineering, not social engineering.”
A United Mine Workers of America international representative, Dale Lydic, said the plan has too many legal uncertainties and the potential ramifications are troubling. Others echoed that statement.
Gratian Yatsevitch of Central City questioned whether anyone has calculated the true cost of the federal plan, which he called a veiled attempt to steal wealth through regulation.
“The impact is brutal and nasty — fewer jobs and lower standards of living,” he said. “I am profoundly opposed to this continued onslaught of regulations by a distant and out of touch Washington, D.C.”
A number of the speakers, such as Steven Hinderliter, a project director at CME Engineering, which has had to trim its energy staff due to a drop in the energy industry already, asked that the state request a two-year extension to assemble a plan in what he said could be a “dismantling of the state’s energy economy.”
He also discussed impacts on coal industry workers and the potential for increased electricity costs.
“Many coal producers have already furloughed workers and cut costs,” he said. “This would affect day-to-day living of families.”
Others, though, praised what they called an attempt to improve the environment.
The Rev. William Thwing of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Johnstown said climate change has contributed to poverty and other social crises, such as concerns over immigration.
“Climate change is our enemy,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous enemy.”
Pennsylvania is a major contributor, Thwing said.
“It will cause some hardship to citizens and the business community (to cut carbon emissions),” he said.
“Many faith traditions are calling for it already.”
But other locals spoke of the benefits of Cambria County’s 100-percent waste-coal-fired electric generation stations as green leaders already and said the move hurts those important cleanup efforts that also provide energy.
“I am not here today to bring to your attention the entire portfolio of environmental regulations that we face today and how the Clean Power Plan will interact with them,” Dennis Simmers, an engineer at the Colver Power Project in Cambria Township, said. “Moreover, I would like to state for the record the very important and unique environmental benefits of these waste-coal-fired power stations in the way of land and water restoration and remediation.”
The Colver plant has eliminated more than 12 million tons of waste coal since its inception and restored hundreds of acres of land, he said, adding that the result has been up to 99 percent reduction of stream pollutant loading on active reclamation sites there.
The completed Ebensburg Power Project near Revloc was such a success, he said, that the state’s Fish & Boat Commission has redesignated a nearby stream as a cold water fishery.
But the cost of air compliance now accounts for 27 percent of the Colver plant’s annual budget, Simmers said.
That is expected to increase to 40 percent with a new federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule.
“The very future of abandoned coal pile reclamation and waterways restoration may lie in the balance of the outcome of the (Clean Power Plan) rule,” he said.
Kecia Bal is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at @KeciaBKay
This article was written by KECIA BAL from The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.