On January 9 at the New School in New York City, a public event allowed for New Yorkers to testify about the EPA’s move by Administrator Scott Pruitt to repeal the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan is often referred to as the key achievement of Obama’s environmental legacy. It sought to reduce carbon pollution by creating “carbon pollution standards for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants.”
Pruitt has pushed to repeal the Clean Power Plan qualifying the regulations as “a war on coal.” (Note: As governor of Oklahoma, he led the lawsuit brought by 29 states against the plan.)
In an end run around public response to his actions, the EPA decided that they would only have public hearings in the state of West Virginia. Pushback forced the agency to add Wyoming, Missouri and San Francisco to that diminutive list.
New York was shut out, even though it requested a hearing.
Unwilling to be excluded from the process, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the NYC Mayor’s office held five hours of hearings.
Pruitt, invited to attend, did not show up. Neither did anyone from the agency. All statements were forwarded to the EPA in a transcript.
Speakers self-identified as representatives of grassroots organizations, the medical profession, lawyers, parents, fractivists, and members of frontline communities. Many made a point of addressing their comments to Pruitt — to underscore his absence.
The consensus was clear. The concept of “replacing the Clean Power Plan with nothing was unacceptable.” Top references covered “climate denial,” a “blatant disregard for reality,” and the “irresponsibility, dangerousness, and negligence” of the proposed appeal. There were calls to decarbonize the American economy. New Yorkers specifically want to see 50 percent of their state’s energy emanating from renewable sources by 2030.
Topics encompassed the fallout to vulnerable communities from climate change, damage from Superstorm Sandy ($40 billion), and the flooding from Lake Ontario that caused road and infrastructure destruction costing millions of dollars.
Extreme heat and sea level rise (New York is predicting a 6-foot rise by the end of the century.) are real threats. Repeatedly, those in the health field spoke of the dangers to the elderly and to children. The stat of 90,000 pediatric asthma attacks was invoked more than once. An oncology nurse, outlining health issues related to air pollution said, “I have to tell patients that poor air quality will kill them.”
Testimony was given about the importance of the Clean Power Plan to those who live in low-income housing, and depend on fairly price energy bills.
A think tank lawyer emphasized that the EPA was currently relying on “false analysis.” She asked rhetorically, “Why is reducing the cost to industry more important than public health?”
There was a call for “greening infrastructure,” as cities’ financial credit is increasingly calculated with an eye to their climate risks.
Two religious leaders discussed their roles as “stewards of the earth,” and why they have a moral obligation to speak out.
Additionally, numerous people took the Clean Power Plan to task for making their “communities into a sacrifice zone,” as a result of fracking infrastructure and the ensuing methane emissions that were poisoning families, farms and animals.
It was an impressive array of stakeholders. Here are quotes that particularly struck me:
Genevieve Guenther, an academic who said she was speaking as the mother of an 8-year old son: “Mr. Pruitt, it does not have to be this way…Let us choose life. Do not repeal the Clean Power Plan, so all children can live on the only planet that sustains their lives.”
Ana Baptista: “The voices of the people must be heard on this matter. The repeal will have dire consequences, and be borne by the most vulnerable among us.”
Catskill Mountainkeeper representative: “Climate change has impacted me personally. As a farmer, I was put out of business.”
Legal activist working for Environmental Justice. “A shocking display of disregard for science. In New York City, we have waterfront communities of color disproportionately affected.”
Harriet Shugarman, Executive Director, ClimateMama: “As a mother, I am desperately concerned for my children’s future and their NOW which is threatened by climate change. Health impacts from climate change are directly hurting my family. My son has developed seasonal asthma. Both my husband and son have severe poison ivy allergies. My daughter has breathing problems, exacerbated by heat extremes.”
I reached out to Natalie Cronin, who had testified, and asked for her take on how things went. The mother of four, Cronin spoke with palpable anger. She admitted to getting upset with the power structure and was clear that she was not ashamed of her strong feelings.
To those who are impeding the progress of getting off of fossil fuels she had a message:
“I am not afraid to speak out. If you don’t like my tears or my swear words, stop poisoning my children!”