Coal miners descend on Pittsburgh to protest EPA hearing

Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter

Greenwire: Thursday, July 31, 2014

PITTSBURGH -- Several thousand coal miners, other union workers and supporters flooded the streets here in opposition to U.S. EPA's proposals to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Action in the streets, including a smaller presence by climate activists, overshadowed the agency's daylong listening session on the regulations on the 13th and 15th floors of the federal building downtown.

Police arrested more than a dozen union activists, including United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts for sitting in front of the building's steps in protest.



Miners chant "EPA don't take our jobs away" as they march through downtown Pittsburgh during a U.S. EPA listening session there on proposed carbon rules for existing power plants. Photo by Manuel Quinones.

Many of the workers here, bused in from several states, helped usher President Obama to the White House but are now opposing one of his signature efforts.

Roberts, hoarse from speaking loudly during a rally at the convention center, railed against rich Democratic donors who support the president's Climate Action Plan. He called EPA rulemaking "stinkin', rotten" to loud cheers.

Roberts, accusing the administration of jeopardizing U.S. competitiveness and selling out workers, said, "I'm probably going to lose some friends over this. But you know what, they weren't my friends to start with.

"Everybody likes to go to the White House, and I do too. I like to know powerful people," he added. "But you know what, there's an old union song, 'Which side are you on? Which side are you on?'"

Workers with the UMWA and other unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, cheered Roberts and other leaders, wearing shirts saying, "Stop The War on Coal" and "We Are One."

Before marching a few blocks from the convention center to the listening session venue, union leaders urged workers to remain nonviolent. But they said 14 activists were prepared for arrest.


West Virginia Secretary of State and Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant greets miners after her testimony this morning at EPA hearing on the proposed climate rule in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Manuel Quinones.

Inside the relatively staid listening sessions, supporters of EPA's oversight sat next to vehement opponents in an effort to move the agency's regulatory needle in their direction. They were armed with well-worn arguments.

EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin opened the conversation by highlighting the overarching issue. "Science tells us that climate change is real and that human activity is fueling that change," he said.

Garvin also talked about EPA's outreach efforts. "We heard that flexibility is key, so we maximized choices states can build for themselves," he said. "We allowed states to work together or go it alone, whatever is better for them."

But Vince Brisini, deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, called the proposed flexibility "illusory" and said lawmakers should be making energy policy decisions.

West Virginia Republican state Del. Cindy Frich said, "We need to focus on real pollutants, not carbon. I believe this is economic suicide."


Conservative activist Phil Hudok drives through downtown Pittsburgh protesting President Obama as EPA holds the fourth and final hearing on its proposed carbon rule for existing power plants. Photo by Manuel Quinones.

West Virginia House of Delegates Republican hopeful Michael Moffat said, "Coal is West Virginia. Coal really impacts every single one of the 1.8 million residents of our great state."

EPA predicts coal will continue being a major energy source for years to come. Yet, John Pippy, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, said the agency's rulemaking will "significantly eliminate coal from the portfolio."

Gary Wire, a retired materials scientist and climate activist, said fighting climate change will promote technological innovation and jobs. "This action will send a strong signal that climate change denial is no longer viable in this country," he told EPA.

Former Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, unseated in the 2010 Republican wave and now Erie County, Pa., executive, thanked Obama for the proposal. "We do not have to choose between the health of our citizens and the health of our economy," she said.

And National Wildlife Federation advocate Frank Szollosi, sitting with his two daughters, expressed concerns about increasing algae blooms in the Great Lakes.

"This standard is going to impact them and their generation and future generations far more than it will impact those in the room today," he told EPA. "Your proposed targets can and should be strengthened."

But many pro-coal advocates are still raw about EPA not holding sessions closer to the coal fields. West Virginia Secretary of State and Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant said, "The White House and EPA has chosen to snub West Virginia, but West Virginia will not be ignored."

Garvin assured the crowd, "We want no stone unturned and no good idea off the table. There are no special comments and no special groups."

Coal rally draws thousands to Downtown Pittsburgh to protest EPA changes

July 31, 2014 2:41 PM


By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

United Mine Workers of America, some with kids in tow, spread across the David H. Lawrence Convention Center in a sea of camoflauge this morning for a rally against proposed federal carbon pollution regulations.

A few blocks away, the Environmental Protection Agency was several hours into its first day of public hearings on the rule.

The coal workers, about 7,000 of them, came in from half a dozen Appalachian states and were joined by electric workers and boilermakers in a rally with the message: jobs and the U.S. economy are in grave danger if EPA's rules are enacted.

"Our message today is not for the EPA," said Donald Siegel, international vice president with the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, Third District. "Our message today is to the American people. It's a simple message: pay attention."

When the U.S. government says EPA's proposed rules won't impact the economy, "they're wrong," he said.

"We all want clean air," he said. "But you can't take 40 gigawatts of power off the grid“ and not expect consequences.

"There's not enough natural gas or solar panels or wind to make up for that loss," Mr. Seigel said.

Many speakers said curbing emissions in the U.S. would only fuel the rise of developing nations like China, India, Mexico and Vietnam.

"I predict once we decrease our burn, they're going to increase theirs because they're going to look out for their economy, and we should, too," said Dan Kane, international secretary-treasurer of the mine workers union.

Mr. Kane likened the EPA rules to a pharmaceutical commercial with its litany of side effects, which he said were "worse than the cure."

UMWA's president Cecil Roberts headlined the rally with a screaming sermon to fire up the crowd before a march to the William S. Moorhead Federal Building.

"I believe our union was touched by the almighty hand of God," he said.

Then Mr. Roberts asked all veterans in the crowd to rise.

"Every time there's a war, they come to the coalfields, they come to Appalachia," he said, "because we're the most patriotic people on earth.

"These men and these women stood up for America and today we ask America to stand up for them," Mr. Roberts said.

The rally culminated in a march that looped from the convention center to the federal building, where Mr. Roberts and 13 other union leaders volunteered to get arrested in a pre-arranged move coordinated with the police. The protesters, meanwhile, marched past a giant mechanized face of President Barack Obama, which spewed smoke, a prop used by West Virginia Constitution Party Senate candidate Phil Hudok. They passed a table of renewable energy executives lunching on Penn Avenue and ran into a small, friendly crowd of protesters from Americans for Prosperity, one of whom scolded, "You should have done this two years ago. You guys are too late."

On the Corner of Liberty Avenue and Tenth Street, environmentalists chanted "Clean Jobs Now!" while coal supporters continued their rallying cry: "Hey, hey, EPA, don't take our jobs away."

Standing between the two camps was Pittsburgh resident Charles McCollester, a self-proclaimed lifelong labor sympathizer and environmentalist. His sign said: "As long as blue union jobs are pitted against green Earth health, we are all doomed."


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