Swartzmiller disappointed with EPA meeting locations

CHESTER – If the Environmental Protection Agency really wants to hear people’s opinions about coal emissions, it should come to a coal state, Del. Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, said Friday.

The EPA is holding 11 “public listening sessions” through Friday to solicit input on reducing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants. Why, Swartzmiller wants to know, are none of the public hearings being hosted by a coal state?

“It would be like holding a public hearing on beach erosion in West Virginia,” Swartzmiller said.

Swartzmiller wrote a letter to recently confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and expressed his disappointment at the locations of the hearings. Public listening sessions already have been held in Atlanta; Denver and New York City. In the coming days, sessions also are scheduled for Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Lenexa, Kan.; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Seattle and Washington, D.C.

“I would think fossil fuel-producing states such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Wyoming, among others, should have a voice in the fact-gathering meetings,” Swartzmiller said. “States that are economically driven by fossil fuels and provide a low-cost utility to millions of people and businesses across the country would be better positioned to offer solutions, if given the chance.”

West Virginia was the top coal-exporting state in the country in 2012, generating $7.4 billion in coal exports to 36 countries, according to the West Virginia Coal Association. West Virginia coal accounted for 49 percent of all U.S. coal exports in 2012, the association said.

With the exception of Pennsylvania, none of the other top five coal-exporting states are represented in the EPA’s public fact-gathering initiative.

The EPA is in the midst of a renewed effort, sparked by President Obama’s “Climate Action Plan,” to enforce Clean Air Act standards and reduce carbon pollution coming from coal-fired power plants. Nearby plants such as FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pa., and the W.H. Sammis Plant in Stratton, Ohio, have sophisticated, expensive scrubber technology designed to remove sulfur dioxide and other toxic chemicals from coal emissions.

Swartzmiller said holding public hearings in large cities such as New York will bias the rule-making process against coal states such as West Virginia. Many residents of large cities are not aware that their electricity is produced using raw materials from deep underground, he said.

“I don’t think the EPA is truly looking for solutions. They’re just looking for people who are going to agree with them,” Swartzmiller said. “I think they want to go to areas where people will tell them what they want to hear.”

Swartzmiller said he is not opposed to public hearings or “sound” environmental legislation, as long as it is supported by “factual data that was gathered by giving everyone a seat at the table – not just listening to one side.”

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency, for those who cannot attend a meeting, is soliciting public input via email and an online comment form.

“EPA is committed to engaging the public and stakeholders, and in-person meetings are just one way we are listening,” she said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)