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EPA hearings to bring coal debate to Pittsburgh streets

Hundreds of people will get a chance to tell federal officials in Pittsburgh what they think about new anti-pollution rules for power plants during hearings on Thursday and Friday.

Some aren’t waiting.

“Because this is one of the few hearings in our region … we wanted to show how important coal is to this area,” said Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy, who will emcee an energy rally against the proposed rules on Wednesday at Highmark Stadium. He expects 2,000 or more people to rally with Gov. Tom Corbett, governors from surrounding states, a country singer and industry leaders.

Advocates on both sides are pushing their message to audiences outside the bureaucrats assigned to the hearings.

Pittsburgh is one of four cities in which Environmental Protection Agency officials will collect comments this week on regulations it proposed in June to curtail climate-altering carbon dioxide from existing power plants, particularly those fired by coal. The hearings, which the EPA extended to two days at each site because of high interest, start on Wednesday in Atlanta, Denver and Washington.

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in coal production and third in overall energy production and carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The hearings will attract a crowd, and events including the stadium rally, a prayer breakfast and street demonstrations.

About 400 speakers got five-minute slots in two meeting rooms in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Downtown. They include doctors and environmental leaders who say cutting carbon emissions will save lives and reduce climate change, and industry leaders and union members who call the rules job-killers that will boost energy prices.

“It’s an opportunity to hear from the public. It’s not an opportunity for dialogue,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation who joined agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on a teleconference Monday morning. McCarthy said she would not attend the hearings.

“These rules will define our children’s future and future generations,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said during a teleconference with fellow environmental leaders.

The rules would instruct states to write plans that cut carbon emissions to state-specific levels to reach a national reduction of 30 percent. Opponents say President Obama and the EPA are targeting the coal industry at the risk of eliminating the country’s biggest source of electrical generation.

“We sure as heck don’t need rogue agencies that change things without approval of the public,” U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, told a gathering at the Heritage Foundation’s office in Washington. Kelly, who is scheduled to testify at the Pittsburgh hearing on Friday, said the rules will result in 600,000 job losses with little positive impact on climate change.

“It’s not a good return on investment. I could never sell that car in a lot,” said Kelly, who owns car dealerships in Butler County.

Several groups have applied for special event permits from Pittsburgh police to express their opinions on the rules this week, said Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto. He said he did not have details on those groups. Police spokeswoman Sonya Toler did not respond to questions about the permit requests or how public safety agencies are preparing.

Peduto is scheduled to appear on Thursday with a group supporting the rules at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. A prayer breakfast “in support of clean air” will precede Peduto’s gathering with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, which released a radio ad campaign in support of the rules.

“Club members will turn out in force. You can expect busloads at each hearing,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Events scheduled by opponents of the rules include a “Stop the Power Grab” news conference by Americans for Prosperity outside the federal building on Thursday and the coal rally in Station Square.

Pippy said organizers have commitments from at least 2,000 people to attend the 10 a.m. rally. Country singer Chris Higbee will lead a celebration of fossil fuels and energy.

“We’re going to put a real face on what coal actually means, for the people who need that energy to make steel and other products,” he said.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.


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