PITTSBURGH - Dave Spencer had to get up pretty early Wednesday morning to make the three-and-a-half hour drive from Buffalo, N.Y., to Pittsburgh to participate in Wednesday's Rally to Support American Energy at Highmark Stadium.
Throughout the morning, Spencer and thousands of miners, boilermakers and others whose jobs depend on the coal industry arrived by the busload at Station Square to make their feelings known in advance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's two-day public hearing in Pittsburgh concerning proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions, set to begin today.
Spencer said he and co-workers Dan DeCarlo, Jim Sikorski and Jim Raab had a very simple reason for making the trip:
PROTEST — Thousands of coal miners, boilermakers and others affected by proposed federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions rally in support of the coal industry Wednesday at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh. -- Ian Hicks
"Our livelihood, you know," Spencer said. "We're affected a lot by this."
After country music artist Chris Higbee spent almost an hour getting the crowd fired up, it was time to get down to business. Several of Wednesday's speakers said the EPA is placing unachievable demands on the coal and power industries at a time when those industries have made great strides in reducing their impact on the environment.
West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton - noting the coal industry has reduced carbon emissions by 90 percent nationwide over the last 25 years - said it's ironic that coal miners are "being punished for a job well done."
"I simply say no - hell, no!"
West Virginia Coal
Association Vice President Chris Hamilton
"I simply say no - hell, no! ... It's not your heads stuck in the sand, it's their heads stuck somewhere else," Hamilton said, prompting a chorus of cheers.
The Mountain State was well-represented at Tuesday's rally, with speakers including Hamilton, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney each taking a turn at the podium.
The message was clear: Coal isn't going down without a fight.
Tomblin, who pledged to stand with the coal industry "to the very end," recalled the frigid temperatures of the past winter which had many power generating stations running at more than 90 percent capacity. If more plants are shuttered as a result of tightening regulations, he said, those that remain may not be able to keep up next time.
"Where is that electricity going to come from? There are going to be people sitting in the cold. The lights may not come on," Tomblin said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said it was the hard work of coal miners that helped make the steel that built Pittsburgh and helped America become a world power.
"Look across the river," Corbett said, gesturing toward the downtown Pittsburgh skyline behind him. "You know who made that? You did. ... We need you to help us take the message to Washington that we truly need an all of the above - and below the ground - energy policy in the United States."
Many in the crowd, however, don't believe Washington is listening.
"I think it's a joke, I'm not going to lie," said P.J. DeLuca, a miner at Rosebud Mining Co.'s Freeport mine, of the EPA hearings.
But William Kovacs, an 85-year-old military veteran who spent decades working as a welder/fabricator for the railroad industry before his 1991 retirement, took a more optimistic view.
"This will shake 'em up," Kovacs said as he looked out at the growing crowd gathering in front of the stage.
After enduring a good-natured chorus of boos after professing her allegiance to the Cleveland Browns, Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor brought the Steel City crowd back around to her side by finding some common ground.
"We support you, we support your work and we support your families," Taylor said.
Defenders of the EPA rules tout its flexibility in setting state-specific standards but leaving it up to the states to craft plans to meet them. But Taylor said she's heard similar promises from the Obama administration before, particularly concerning the Affordable Care Act.
"I've seen the movie before. I can tell you it doesn't end well for us. ... It's going to have an impact not only on you, but on every Ohioan and every American," Taylor said.
The first session of the Pittsburgh hearings began at 9 a.m. today at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building on Liberty Avenue downtown. The EPA will hear comments until 8 p.m., with a similar schedule on Friday.
More than 360 people pre-registered to speak over the two-day affair, including Jennifer Garrison, a Democrat congressional candidate for Ohio's 6th District, and Belmont County Commissioner Matt Coffland.
Testifying before the EPA Wednesday as public hearings in Washington, D.C., wrapped up were Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling.
The reality, Manchin said, is that global warming exists and fossil fuels will continue to be a part of the nation's energy portfolio - and there are too many "deniers" on both sides of the issue. He said the administration needs to work as an ally with industry, not as an adversary, to continue developing clean-coal technology.
"If we get these rules wrong and miss the opportunities before us, we'll compromise reliability and lose the low-priced energy needed to grow our economy. We won't deploy technologies that will enable us to use coal cleaner now and in the future. American ingenuity should be harnessed right now - not restrained - to ensure our future at home, and to be a leader for the world," Manchin said.
McKinley said the families who are becoming casualties on what he called the Obama administration's war on coal need a voice.
"These are small towns. If you shut down a coal mine or a power plant, you shut down an entire community. In many places these are the only good jobs available. There are real consequences to this anti-coal agenda," McKinley said. "Of course, we all want clean air and fresh water. But we need to achieve it in a way that doesn't impose a crushing cost on hardworking American families."