EPA regulation hearings draw interest groups to Pittsburgh

Hundreds of people from environmental organizations and the coal and electric power industries are scheduled to testify at federal hearings in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday about controversial proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants.

And in the meantime, a host of interested groups is clamoring to get their views out early and publicly.

Environmental groups have hailed the proposed regulations as a key step to combat climate change, while some industry representatives decry the rules as government overreach.

The EPA proposal, initially released in June, aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels nationwide by 2030. Pennsylvania is tasked with cutting emissions by almost 32 percent by that date.

The groups slated to offer remarks at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Downtown, later this week either supporting or opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal include physicians, environmental activists and utility companies. In addition, both national and local groups will be represented, from the National Wildlife Federation to the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Ohio-based coal company Murray Energy Corp.

The Pittsburgh hearings are among several scheduled nationwide during this week — the public will debate EPA’s Clean Power Plan in Denver, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to rally with other public officials at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday in opposition of the proposal. Workers with the United Mine Workers of America, similarly, plan to march in protest of the regulations on Thursday.

The Sierra Club, in contrast, is running radio advertisements this week expressing support for the policy. Environmental activists plan to rally together Thursday at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Mayor Bill Peduto is expected to attend.

In a run-up to the testimony, a host of industry, business, environmental and health organizations held news conferences and released advance transcripts of their hearing testimony in attempts to sway public opinion.

At a joint phone-in news conference Monday morning, leaders of five national environmental and community organizations said they supported the Obama administration’s carbon pollution standards as a reasonable and necessary first step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

“The hearings on these rules,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “are a major step for moving forward on a climate change policy for the country that will define our children’s future.”

But testimony that is expected to be delivered Friday in Pittsburgh by Christopher Burk of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council questions the legality of the administration’s rules. He also said the regulations will increase electricity costs and could make power supplies unreliable while having little impact on the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Carbon emissions are a global issue,” he said in testimony released Tuesday. “This proposal, however, is risky, expensive, and will do nothing to address the global nature of carbon emissions. EPA’s proposal comes with real risks for the health and economic well-being of our country, and the proposal should not be finalized as currently drafted.”

The Obama administration released a report by Council of Economic Advisers urged immediate action on climate change policy, saying that delaying policy actions by a decade will increase total mitigation costs by about 40 percent. “Failing to take any action would risk substantial economic damage,” the report stated.

Pre-registration for those interested in speaking at the hearings has closed, and Thursday’s roster in Pittsburgh is full. There are still some slots available on Friday evening through in-person registration.

The public can also submit comments on the proposal to EPA through Oct. 16. The agency has received almost 300,000 written comments so far, according to its website.

Madeline R. Conway: mconway@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1714 or on Twitter @MadelineRConway. Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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