The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a “Listening Tour” on tougher coal plant standards but seems to be wearing earmuffs.
The EPA is working on new limits for existing coal-fired power plants in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Its website describes the goal of the tour this way: “The feedback from these 11 public listening sessions will play an important role in helping EPA develop smart, cost-effective guidelines.”
Feedback sounds like a good idea when you are planning to overhaul how a major industry does business. But wouldn’t you want to know what they think in the states that produce and consume coal?
How do you gather a complete range of comments when the tour manages to avoid the top three coal-producing states of Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky? The tour that continues until Friday included stops in NewYork, Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Lenoxa, Kan.
This isn’t only a Wyoming complaint. The EPA bypasses 16 of the top 20 coal-producing states.
Whatever a person’s view about the desirability of setting deadlines for reducing carbon pollution, there’s no denying that the people who will enact the changes are the ones who produce coal now.
Wyoming senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso joined other senators in challenging the logic of this tour, which ignores our state, producer of 40 percent of the U.S. coal in 2011.
On Oct. 31, they wrote to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA, to ask the agency to “consider hearing the opinions of the people most impacted by your policies.”
They worry that new rules could force layoffs or plant closures that would do major economic harm to one of Wyoming’s most important industries.
A look at what is cost-effective would need to account for its price to the economy to be complete.
And then there’s the issue of hearing from the people who use coal, the ones most affected by changes that will cost money to the producers and likely higher prices for consumers. The 11 selected locations for the “Listening Tour” don’t include most of the states that largely use coal for power.
A letter of protest from state and business groups accused the EPA of not following its own guidelines to hold hearings in geographic areas effected by policies. These writers pointed out that the tour started out in San Francisco, which receives 1 percent of its energy from coal-fired plants, but did not go to West Virginia, where 96 percent of electricity comes from coal.
“EPA has chosen to locate most of these hearings in states and regions that use very little coal, while neglecting states most dependent on coal for affordable and reliable electricity generation,” said the letter.
Why would you only include four of the top coal-consuming states in your tour to evaluate effects from the changes? They will pay the new prices that come with regulations.
While our Republican senators have challenged the EPA plan, this concern isn’t limited to one party. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), whose first job after law school was working for the EPA, wrote to McCarthy to “strongly disagree with your decision to limit these sessions … ignoring many of the very states that are most dependent on coal production and coal-fired power.”
The tour started Oct. 23 and ends Friday, never having set foot in Heitkamp’s state, or neighboring Montana and Wyoming — states that produced 63 percent of the country’s coal in 2011.
There’s a phrase for that kind of “listening tour” — tone-deaf.