Atlanta, August 2, 2014 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed taking public testimony on its controversial, far-reaching Clean Power Plan to regulate electric power plant CO2 emissions.
The most striking characteristic of the public hearings held in Atlanta, Georgia is the astounding ignorance of the plan demonstrated by most of the people who provided public testimony. It was obvious that few actually read any part of the two regulations being considered.
Public hearings on the plan were conducted over two days in four different cities spread around the United States. Open public testimony is now done.
Given the shocking lack of understanding demonstrated in hearing testimony, it’s obvious that ordinary Americans remain largely uninformed about the plan and its impact.
Public testimony in Atlanta, Georgia was taken in two cavernous OMNI Hotel meeting rooms at the downtown CNN Center after, ironically, the hearing was forced out of the nearby Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center by an electric power outage.
EPA is required by law to take public input on proposed new regulations before they can be finalized and implemented.
Testimony methodology used by EPA is much like that used in U.S. House and Senate Congressional hearings. A person is allowed 5 minutes to make a statement, then an EPA panel may or may not ask clarifying questions. Individuals can submit supporting documents with their verbal testimony. An EPA stenographer records the proceedings.
In EPA’s case, unconnected individuals were marched two-by-two and sat side-by-side at a single table on a stage facing a kindly tolerant three-member EPA panel. One could imagine it being similar to how Noah’s Ark was loaded. Each individual then spoke in turn.
It was obvious in Atlanta that the EPA panel was most interested in input supporting the plan. For example, the panel would ask individuals to identify obscure references on negative health effects. Panelists then busily wrote them down.
On the other hand, you could hear crickets chip when individuals provided substantive cost analysis that contradicts EPA’s compliance cost estimates. This writer knows, because I was the individual who provided that testimony.
Atlanta had an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. They ranged from corporate CEOs with vested interests, to directly affected electric utility operators, to Sierra Club environmental activists, to ordinary citizens concerned about their health or electric bills, and even children expressing worries over how global warming will affect their future.
The vast majority of individuals, including obviously coached children, read prepared remarks word-for-word off printed pages or off the glowing screens of portable electronic devices. Most quoted numbers off the EPA fact sheet and then went on to express support for the plan.
In a few rare cases individuals would mention reference materials backing up the EPA fact sheet. That is when EPA officials expressed the most interest.
Misinformation came from both sides of the issue in Atlanta.
On one side, numerous individuals told personal asthma attack horror stories. It is not surprising given Atlanta is one of the top ten asthma suffering cities in the United States and EPA says the plan will prevent “140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children”.
Unmentioned by anyone, including EPA, is that carbon dioxide (the only regulated substance in the plan) is non-toxic to humans. According to WebMD, “No one really knows what causes asthma”. What is definitely known is asthma correlates with allergens and since CO2 is not an allergen, no medical association anywhere blames asthma on CO2.
On the other side of the issue, one ratepayer openly cried on stage while lamenting that the new plan would raise their electric bill so high that they will not be able to pay their bills.
Nobody really knows how much electric rates will be affected by the plan. It’s likely the cost will vary widely from state to state depending on choices each one makes when designing their individual or regional compliance plans.
EPA says electric power rates will stay within normal ranges with a nationwide compliance cost between $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion dollars. Several independent analysis indicate the compliance costs will be higher, but it remains unclear how much higher electric bills will go up as a direct result of the Clean Power Plan.
EPA’s Clean Power Plan will likely have the most direct impact on ordinary Americans of any regulation in EPA history. Written comments on the plan can still be submitted by anyone until October 16, 2014.
Few people providing public testimony in Atlanta realize that hidden deep within the plan it allows, and even encourages, the widespread expansion of natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) technology as the most viable, economical solution making it possible for states to meet their 2030 carbon dioxide emission goals. NGCC growth is already underway and has been producing CO2 reductions for the last six years.
The prevailing attitude of most attendees in Atlanta was anti-fossil, anti-nuclear and even anti-hydro. It was as if no thought was given to the enormity of the proposed plan or how to achieve it. Just say it, most seemed to think, and it is as good as done.
A 5-man film crew asked to interview me on camera about the Clean Power Plan. The most revealing question the interviewer asked came before the cameras were turned on. He asked which side of the issue I’m on. He asked it as if it has a simple ‘yes/no’ answer. It doesn’t. It’s far more complex than that.
The Clean Power Plan can and will be successful if NGCC is its main tool. If not, it will become a very costly failure. Each state will chart its own path. The fate of ratepayers hinges on choices made by their state and their local utilities. At this point, nobody knows what those choices will be.
In the meantime, should you see a slick video showing public EPA testimony made in Atlanta, then the tall brainy Texan with ruggedly handsome, chiseled features and wearing a white Stetson is your humble reporter. 😉