Among the 1,600 people who are expected to flock to U.S. EPA listening sessions this week to share their views on the agency's existing power plant proposal will be at least one prominent member of Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is set to testify Wednesday, the second of two days during which EPA senior personnel will take oral comments at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Similar sessions will also be held this week in Denver, Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
This is not the first time the Senate's top Republican has left Capitol Hill to speak in opposition to an EPA rule that he says will be disastrous to his state's coal-based economy. McConnell participated in a similar session in November on the agency's bid to curb greenhouse gases from new power plants -- a proposal that would require carbon capture and storage technology for all new coal-fired units.
And he made the trip down the street in February to hear oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a case that ultimately led to few changes in EPA's permitting program for greenhouse gas emissions. McConnell and other members of his state's delegation filed an amicus brief in the case charging EPA with "usurping" Congress' power in seeking to regulate major emitters of heat-trapping gases.
This personal engagement is not unusual for McConnell, said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican strategist who worked for McConnell's 2002 and 2008 election campaigns and is working for a political action committee supporting his campaign this year.
"When he is extremely invested in an issue, especially one that affects the state, he's not content to necessarily just govern by press release," he said.
In letters and public statements, McConnell has repeatedly touted the role coal plays in his state's economy. It supplies more than 90 percent of the Bluegrass State's power and is crucial, he says, to the competitive advantage that has allowed its manufacturing sector to grow. Restrictions like the ones that would be imposed under EPA's June 2 proposal would jeopardize those advantages, he argues, levying costs his state's relatively poor population can ill afford.
McConnell has sponsored legislation aimed at killing the rule and another for new fossil fuel power plants (Greenwire, April 1). And he has kept up a steady drumbeat for a listening session in Kentucky, which he said would provide "those most affected" by the rule with a venue to air their concerns. He proposed this in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last month and a follow-up on July 15, in which he blasted the administrator for not including Kentucky in this week's schedule.
"Your agency made it extremely difficult for those most directly impacted by these proposed regulations to voice their concerns by hosting hearings several hours driving distance away from coal country," he told McCarthy. The administration's new rules regarding secondary identification will also present a barrier, McConnell said. He urged McCarthy to add to the listening tour schedule, perhaps with an additional session at the University of Pikeville campus.
McConnell said last week on the Senate floor that he had raised the issue with McCarthy during her visit to Capitol Hill last week, and she was "unmoved."
"Apparently, the Obama administration is not all that interested in what Kentucky thinks," he said, pledging that his constituents would make the trip to Washington to ensure that they are not "collateral damage in some elitist war dreamed up in a bureaucratic boardroom here in Washington."
EPA said in an email that the four listening session locations are intended to ensure access to as many people as possible. "We chose these locations in different regions, as well as the nation's capital, that are easily accessible and that had space available during the timeframe we needed," the agency said. "Because of the high level of interest in the public hearings, EPA has added a second day at each location. People also can comment on the proposal by email, fax or letter."
McConnell plans to hold a briefing on the rule at noon Wednesday with Jimmy Rose, former coal miner and third-place finisher on the TV show "America's Got Talent," and with other members of the Congressional Coal Caucus.
McConnell isn't the only commenter EPA personnel will hear from during the hearings tomorrow and Wednesday at the William Jefferson Clinton building in downtown Washington, or at simultaneous hearings in Atlanta and Denver. Pittsburgh's will be held on Thursday and Friday.
The pro-climate action group Moms Clean Air Force, which attended last week's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing with McCarthy on the rule, is planning a repeat of its "play in" protest in all four cities (E&E Daily, July 9).
And more than one group is launching ads bashing the fossil fuel industry and its allies for their stance against the proposal. The League of Conservation Voters launched a spot last week calling emitting industries "desperate" for opposing a rule that they said would help modernize the power grid (E&ENews PM, July 24).
And Public Citizen will release a radio ad of its own in coal country -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia and Utah -- blasting Murray Energy Corp. for challenging the proposal and a Department of Labor proposal aimed at fighting black lung among miners. The spot will run in Pittsburgh during the EPA sessions.
"We are running this ad because we want people to know that this company is working against the interests of mine workers and the public," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program.
McConnell might even have some senatorial company at the sessions. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the chamber's chief advocates for action to address greenhouse gas emissions, is mulling an appearance if his schedule allows.