The federal proposal to cut coal-fired power-plant carbon emissions will affect the nation’s economy — and witnesses at a Denver hearing Tuesday sparred over just what it will mean.
“(The Environmental Protection Agency) is trying to shut down the coal industry without regard,” said Greg Schaefer, a spokesman for Arch Coal Inc., which employs about 1,800 people in Wyoming and about 320 in western Colorado. “I urge EPA to withdraw the proposal.”
But wind- and solar-industries advocates, as well as representatives of small business and ranching, said there are economic benefits to cutting carbon emissions and replacing fossil fuels.
More than 230 people were scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s hearing at EPA headquarters in Denver.
“A booming wind industry” is creating jobs in Iowa, said Katherine McCormick, Midwest energy policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Iowa has 3,000 wind-related jobs and among the lowest energy costs in the country — helping to lure Google to locate a data center in Council Bluffs, McCormick said.
In Colorado, the wind industry has invested $4.3 billion, said Justin Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit Western Clean Energy Campaign,
More than 230 people — from a half dozen states west of the Mississippi River — were slated to testify during Tuesday’s 12-hour session.
The hearing, which continues Wednesday, is the only one of four sessions being held west of Pittsburgh.
As witnesses testified, rallies for and against the proposal were held around town.
The EPA rule aims to cut carbon dioxide emission, a gas linked to climate change, by an average 30 percent over 2012 levels by 2030.
The targets are set state by state. Colorado has a 35 percent goal.
As the result of its efficiency and renewable-energy programs and a plan by Xcel Energy to close aging coal plants, the state is in a good position to meet its goal, says a study by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.
Some opponents of the rule question whether climate change is real — despite extensive scientific studies documenting the phenomenon — and how severe its potential impacts.
There was little of that testimony, but there was much about the economic impact of the proposed rule and climate change.
The risk of extreme weather — such as Colorado’s 2013 flooding or Hurricane Sandy along the Atlantic in 2012 — pose a special risk to small businesses, said Tim Gaudette, outreach manager for Small Business Majority, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.
“Twenty-five percent of small businesses do not reopen after a big event,” Gaudette said.
Property damage, cuts in staff and loss of revenue often make it difficult for small businesses to bounce back, and most small businesses have only a single location, Gaudette said.
Still, the broader costs to the economy will be expensive, said Jonathan Downing, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
The rules would “create a de facto ban on old coal plants,” Downing said, citing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that calculated the annual cost of the rule to the economy at $51 billion.
“Coal is America’s most abundant, reliable and cheapest energy source,” Downing said.
Other witnesses cited an economic study that estimated that coastal states alone face $35 billion of annual costs because of higher sea levels and storm surges.
The study, “Risky Business,” was backed by a bipartisan group that includes former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
“Outdated policies and a failure of government action hold us back,” Jenn Vervier, director of strategy and sustainability for Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing.
Vervier said New Belgium has been able to grow to a staff of 562, even as it followed sustainable-energy policies.
“Making world-class beer, being honorable and making a profit go hand in hand,” Vervier said.
Mark Fix, a rancher in Miles City, Mont., told tales of cleaning fields after tornadoes and rescuing heifers from floodwaters.
Any steps to moderate the impacts of climate change are welcome, he said.
“We in agriculture have to deal with weather every day,” Fix said. “It can make us or break us.”
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- On July 29, 2014