Hundreds turn out for EPA hearing on power plant carbon-emission standards

A storm of opinions blew through Johnson County Monday night as the Environmental Protection Agency gauged public opinion on strengthening air-pollution protections.

The EPA hosted a four-hour public hearing at the Region 7 office in Lenexa, where people from across the region — which includes Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and nine Native American tribes — came to voice and hear opinions on agency guidelines for power plants.

The goal of the meeting was to gather as much public input on EPA regulations as possible as the organization begins to draft a new proposal for carbon-emission standards for existing power plants, regional EPA Administrator Karl Brooks said.

President Barack Obama asked the EPA to come up with a new proposal for cost-effective regulations of carbon emissions at existing power plants across the U.S. Those regulations, in effect by June 2015, would coincide with pollution regulations the EPA promoted in September for new coal-fired generators.

The EPA will conduct a total of 11 public hearings, one at each of the 10 region offices and another in Washington, D.C., to collect opinions on carbon pollution standards for power plants currently in operation. Once the public hearings are completed the EPA will host meetings with state utility boards and commissions, utility providers and other stakeholders before drafting a proposal by next June.

More than 320 people from all four of Region 7’s states came to the hearing, with more than 130 of them sharing diverse opinions on how the EPA should regulate power plants. Some see increasing natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires as a sign of global climate change, and government-enforced carbon-cutting as the best option to curb climate change. Others see coal as the most affordable option for consumers.

Richard Voss from Overland Park urged the EPA to make regulations on existing coal plants just as strong as the regulations on new plants. He fears that state legislation is not strong enough to properly regulate coal plants.

“I fear the state legislatures are in a state of denial,” he said. “Climate change is indisputable.”

In Kansas, coal-fired utility plants are dominant in the northeast, with wind generation in the west and a nuclear facility near Burlington.

Missouri state Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, was concerned his state legislature would not pass strict enough regulations.

“I want protection that makes us a better society,” he said. “This is the only Earth we have.”

Overland Park resident Rabbi Moti Rieber represented Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, an interfaith approach organization based in Lawrence that is focused on energy efficiency and renewables.

“There is a moral imperative base on our deeply held beliefs to address global climate change quickly and effectively,” Rieber said.

But not all speakers advocated for strict guidelines. Thousands of power-plant and related jobs would be at stake if the EPA passed new limits, said Scot Albertson from Boilermakers Union Local 83 in Kansas City. Following new regulation in 2005, he said, union workers saw job losses.

“We encourage the EPA to provide reasonable guidelines,” he said.

Amy Christensen from the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates utility companies in that state, hopes the EPA will consult existing state and local regulations when draft its proposal. Iowa has already begun moving toward renewable energy sources, she said. In 2012, more than 24 percent of Iowa’s electricity was coming from wind, with plans to increase that through 2015.

“If the EPA considers existing energy requirements, they can implement a program that reduces CO-2 emissions and still provides reliable cost to consumers,” she said.