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Denver EPA Hearing Draws A Crowd

Bente Birkeland
Coal supporters opposed to the EPA rules rally in front of the state capitol, July 29, 2014. The EPA hearing was being held nearby in downtown Denver the same day.

Hundreds of people are expected to testify in Denver on proposed rules to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Denver hearing is one of several the Environmental Protection Agency is hosting across the country on the plans.

69-year-old Stanley Sturgill, flew to Denver from a small coal mining town in southeastern Kentucky for the day just to make his voice heard.

“I worked in the coal mines for 41 years, in an underground coal mine as a coal miner, and federal coal mine inspector,” said Sturgill. “I don’t have long to live, common sense will tell you that, because I have black lung and COPD and other respiratory ailments.”

COPD is a progressive disease that makes breathing difficult. Sturgill said he wants to spend the time he has left working to make the air cleaner. He supports the EPA rules to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. He only wishes the rules went even farther.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Stanley Sturgill from Kentucky testifies in support of the EPA rules at Tuesday's hearing in Denver. He's a former coal miner who suffers from respiratory illnesses.

“We’re dying, literally dying and it’s their job to help us,” he said. “The war on coal, is a war that king coal, the industry, has falsified.”

Others in the coal industry argue the rules are too burdensome, will increase energy costs, and harm the industry. Several-hundred coal supporters opposed to the EPA rules held a separate rally in front of the state capitol. They praised the coal industry for providing high paying jobs and helping create a stronger middle class.

“It was paying enough to where I could support my family and what we needed to support ourselves,” said John Simonet, an underground coal miner. Five years ago he took his job at Twentymile Coal company near Craig, Colorado because he said it was dependable.

The new EPA rules are intended to reduce greenhouse gases and curb global warming. They’re part of the Climate Plan President Barack Obama unveiled in 2013. According to the agency, carbon pollution is leading to long lasting climate changes, such as rising temperatures and sea levels, and more droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Advocates like Carey Christ-Janer want the EPA to give even more direction to state in crafting emission reduction plans.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Dale Gustafson from Ft. Collins is a volunteer with the free market advocacy group American's for Prosperity. He called the EPA rules a government overreach.

“I think it’s a historic moment and a step in the right direction,” said Christ-Janer. She also thinks there should be a lot of coordination to keep energy prices low.

“We don’t want to quadruple the rates. We want to keep energy affordable and have renewable energy for the most people possible,” said Christ-Janer.

The day’s events also took a political turn when Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez spoke at the pro-coal rally. Beauprez said when his grandfather immigrated to Colorado from Belgium, his first job was working in a coal mine. But he said times have changed.

“We have never used coal, cleaner, safer more efficiently than we do right now,” Beauprez said. “That isn’t something to punish. It’s something to celebrate. Why would you cripple the great American and the Colorado economy when it needs a helping hand the most?”

Colorado officials said the state will have an easier time complying than many other parts of the country. The state already has a renewable energy standard requiring larger utility companies to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the year 2020. Colorado lawmakers also passed a bill in 2010 to replace some older coal fired power plants and switch to cleaner burning natural gas.

The EPA meetings continue nationwide through August 1, Denver’s meetings conclude July 30, 2014.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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