By Greg Johnson
December 7, 2017 - The Energy Capital of the Nation will have a chance to put some real faces and personal stories to the nation’s coal-fired energy debate when the EPA comes to town.
The agency announced Wednesday that Gillette, Wyoming is one of three cities that will host public hearings to gather input on the Trump administration’s plans to nullify the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
Making Gillette one of the meeting locations — along with San Francisco and Kansas City, Missouri — sends a message that the EPA values input from the nation’s largest coal-producing area, said Travis Deti, executive director for the Wyoming Mining Association.
“Obviously, one of the regions that would be severely impacted by the Clean Power Plan is Campbell County, Wyoming,” Deti said. “I think it’s very appropriate you have these hearings in a place that’s very, very affected, and I think we should have a say.”
Deti said the overall vibe leading up to these public hearings, for which dates, times and venues haven’t been set, is 180 degrees different from August 2015, when the Obama administration was in Gillette to gather input on its plan to change the federal coal leasing program. Trump has since rolled back that initiative.
Most in Wyoming feel that hearing, which drew hundreds of people to the Campbell County Public Library for hours of testimony, was just for show and that local concerns weren’t listened to, Deti said.
“It’s a very fair statement to say that (meeting) was just Kabuki theater,” he said. “Now the shoe is certainly on the other foot with Trump (as president), and what a difference a year makes.”
The upcoming meetings in Gillette, San Francisco and Kansas City follows a recent two-day hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, where coal boosters and environmentalists squared off. Because of the strong response at that hearing, EPA officials said there’s a need for more input.
That Gillette has been chosen to host one of those meetings is exciting and appropriate, said Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King.
“I’m excited about it,” she said Thursday morning after learning of the decision, adding that the city has a chance to debunk a lot of myths about coal and mining the mineral.
“Now people can see for themselves what clean air looks like right here in the midst of the Energy Capital of the Nation,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll stay long enough to tour the Integrated Test Center. They can tour one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the nation and world (at Dry Fork Station).”
Like Deti, she also said she feels that this time around with a new administration in power that the EPA is genuinely interested in what Campbell County residents have to say on the issue of coal mining and carbon dioxide regulations.
“That’s why I’m excited about this one,” Carter-King said. “I’m optimistic they’ll actually listen to us. I want people to show everyone the true picture of coal miners and how healthy and happy they are and their families.
“What a wonderful community we have built from the energy industry. We are not that image of a soot-covered town. … We’re at the center of the discussion, which is where we should be. I think the last administration tried to show everything (relating to coal) as negative.”
She also said many environmentalists would be surprised to learn that most here in the heart of the nation’s richest coal mines are as passionate about CO2 capture, research and reduction as anybody.
“We all want our world to be cleaner and better for our next generations,” the mayor said. “That’s another myth about us. We want to work with (environmental concerns), not against them.”
Deti said that although details of the upcoming meetings haven’t been set, he expects the focus to be the same as the first gathering in West Virginia. That’s to gather input on what people feel the future is for the Clean Power Plan, whether it’s modified or scrapped outright.
What Gillette has to offer to the discussion is to put real human faces and stories into the discussion, Deti said.
“The coal industry is the heart of Gillette,” he said. “It’s mined efficiently, it’s mined safely, it’s mined cleanly. We reclaim and have won national awards for our reclamation. The message we have is to continue the fight to make sure coal remains in the energy mix, especially Wyoming coal.”
Sen. Mike Enzi speaks during a public listening session on federal coal programs hosted in August 2015 by the Bureau of Land Management at the Campbell County Public Library. The EPA has announced the federal government will return to Gillette to listen to input on scrapping the Clean Power Plan.