“This is a bigger story than coal mining, although our industry has been particularly hard hit,” said National Mining Association (NMA) CEO Hal Quinn about the agency’s controversial regulations. “It’s about the availability of low-cost electricity for households, for industry and for those on fixed incomes and retirees.”
Even so, in rolling out these regulations, the EPA paid only lip service to openness and transparency. It held “listening sessions” to hear what people think about its climate change regulations. The agency’s air quality director Janet McCabe described this public involvement effort as “unprecedented and vigorous,” but then we learned the public hearings were scheduled in such coal-intensive metropolises as Seattle, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Denver and Washington, D.C.
She’ll find the Vatican in Vegas before she hears from the coal community in these liberal precincts.
That’s why last month, Count on Coal, an alliance of employees, business leaders and civic activists allied with coal, brought the coal community to Washington. So the EPA could hear from those most directly affected by its rules. Assembling under a bright October sky were more than 4,000 miners, power plant workers, labor and business leaders, their spouses and kids — all supported by 41 members of Congress and other elected and appointed officials. With the imposing Capitol dome rising before them and the majestic Washington Monument off in the distance, the Rally to Save American Energy Jobs was a heady mixture of patriotism and politics.
Their message to the administration was as clear as the autumn day: Get off our backs. In private conversations and on the podium, the NMA heard the call to keep our jobs, keep our communities and keep coal in our future. “If the EPA is listening, they’ll hear these workers ask for sensible, thoughtful regulations that allow new plants to be built with the most advanced clean coal technology available today,” said Quinn. “They’ll hear why EPA should not gamble with our economy and risk their jobs.”
The gamble is big because the risks are big for everyone who benefits from affordable electricity. The EPA would take coal off the table while nuclear power is prostrate and renewable energy — its subsidies disappearing — is stuck at just 5% of the power market. That leaves base load power generation in the hands of just one energy source — and the U.S. economy with little margin for error.
It also threatens tens of thousands with unemployment. John Roeber, president of the Montana Building and Construction Trades Council, was one of thousands on the Capitol grounds. He was worried not about Congress, or domestic competition or imports. He was worried about EPA regulators. “I traveled across the country to fight back against those who would drown out the progress toward a workable energy future by doing the only thing I can,” he said. “Raise my voice to demand that we be heard.”
In fact, what struck this observer at the rally was that our congressional representatives were there enthusiastically supporting coal. But these lawmakers, those we elected, don’t make the decisions that promote one industry over another. The unelected make these decisions today. And they were nowhere to be found at the rally.
That’s a pity. Among the crowd with hard hats and signs were just kids — sons and daughters whose futures are now clouded by decisions made by their own government far away from their homes and far removed from their welfare. Kids waving flags are sometimes brave when their parents are worried. And so they were at the rally, many still enthralled by Washington’s grandeur and cheered by the rousing words of encouragement from senators and congressmen.
What they didn’t hear that day — what none of us heard — were words from the administration that they get it.
Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.