Coal country criticizes Trump's repeal of Obama-era carbon rule

CHARLESTON, W. Va., Nov 28 (Reuters) - Health groups, environmentalists and a former coal miner criticized the Trump administration's proposal to dismantle an Obama-era rule to slash carbon emissions from power plants at a public hearing held in the heart of coal country on Tuesday.

The hearing also heard from many coal supporters who said that the plan would cost utilities billion of dollars, which would likely result in mining job cuts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted the two-day hearing in West Virginia on its proposal to axe the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama's strategy on climate change. It was the only meeting scheduled on the rule, which President Donald Trump has said would devastate the coal industry.

RELATED: Coal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia

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Coal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia
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Coal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia
The rocky landscape shows some of the last sections to be mined for coal at the Hobet site in Boone County, West Virginia, U.S. May 12, 2016. To match Special Report USA-COAL/HOBET REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A Caterpillar Inc. front loader scoops coal from a mound at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal waits to be among the last shipments to be loaded on train cars to depart the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia, U.S. May 12, 2016. Picture taken May 12, 2016. To match Special Report USA-COAL/HOBET REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ice patches sit on a mound of coal at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Radio channel signs are posted beside a large mound of coal at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A mound of coal sits outside an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Views of a radically altered natural environment in southern West Virginia due to extensive mountain top removal coal mining and logging. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Views of a radically altered natural environment in southern West Virginia due to extensive mountain top removal coal mining and logging. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
WISE COUNTY, VA - APRIL 16: A & G Coal Corporation surface mining operations continue in the Appalachian Mountains on April 16, 2012 in Wise County, Virginia. Critics refer to this type of mining as 'mountaintop removal mining' which has destroyed 500 mountain peaks and at least 1,200 miles of streams while leading to increased flooding. The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WISE COUNTY, VA - APRIL 16: A & G Coal Corporation surface mining operations are seen in the Appalachian Mountains on April 16, 2012 in Wise County, Virginia. Critics refer to this type of mining as 'mountaintop removal mining' which has destroyed 500 mountain peaks and at least 1,200 miles of streams while leading to increased flooding. The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on Earth. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 16 : West Virginia Patriot mining operations at the Guston strip mine just outside of Starcity West Virginia on August 16, 2010. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 16 : West Virginia Patriot mining operations at the Guston strip mine just outside of Starcity West Virginia on August 16, 2010. Seen here is an example of land that has been reclamed and land that is still being mined. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images)
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Stanley Sturgill, a 72-year-old retired coal miner from Kentucky who has black lung disease, urged the EPA to "stop listening to the corrupting power" of the fossil fuel industry and to start doing everything possible to protect human health and the climate.

Under Obama, the EPA in 2015 finalized the CPP, which sought to reduce emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But the plan never took effect. The Supreme Court stalled it after energy-producing states sued the EPA, saying it had exceeded its legal reach.

Health groups told the hearing the plan would save billions of dollars on hospital bills because it would slash emissions of particulates that can harm lungs and hearts, from both coal plants and fires spurred by global warming.

"Revoking the CPP gives power plants a license to pollute," said Kevin Stewart, an advocate at the American Lung Association, a nonprofit health group.

'MASSIVE COSTS'

Robert Murray, the CEO of private coal mining company Murray Energy who was the first party to file a lawsuit against the CPP, referred to the rules as the "no power plan." If it is not repealed American consumers would face massive costs, said Murray, who was accompanied by about 20 miners in hard hats from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Scott Segal, the head of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said the CPP is expensive and illegal because it requires some utilities to reduce emissions "beyond the fence line" or far away from the power plants themselves.

Comments were also heard on the EPA's October declaration to propose a new rule on carbon emissions in the "near future," which would likely go easier on coal-fired plants than Obama's CPP would have.

Former Obama EPA staffers complained that the agency has scheduled only one hearing on the plan to ditch the CPP.

Liz Purchia Gannon, a former spokeswoman, said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is "just checking a box ... and making it more difficult for Americans across the country to weigh in."

RELATED: A look at Scott Pruitt

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Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
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Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito as his wife Marilyn holds a bible during ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (L) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy John R.H. Collison (L) meets with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to discuss state water issues at the attorney generals office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014.

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a meeting at his office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

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Under Obama, the EPA held 11 public listening sessions before it proposed the CPP and four hearings during its public comment period.

The EPA criticized the Obama administration for never holding a hearing in West Virginia, saying it denied coal workers a chance to comment in person. It is encouraging stakeholders to submit online comments about the proposal and any requests for additional public meetings.

The agency will receive written comments on the CPP until Jan. 16, and a spokesman added: "We will do our best to respond to requests for additional meetings." (Reporting by Kara Van Pelt and Timothy Gardner, writing by Timothy Gardner; editing by Dan Grebler and Susan Thomas)

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