EPA Listens to Texans Talk Black and Green

Texas has a reputation for just about anything other than environmental activism, but a public hearing held Nov. 7 by EPA was crowded with people patiently waiting their three-minute turn at the microphone.

Texas is renowned for many things, but not so much for environmental activism. An EPA public hearing held Nov. 7 in Dallas was crowded with people patiently waiting their three-minute turn at the microphone, however. The session, one of 11 scheduled across the country, provided a forum for public comments on EPA proposals under the Clean Air Act to set carbon limits on new and existing power plants, in order to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.

Although Texas is known for oil and gas, the majority of those speaking against EPA's proposals came from the coal industry. Surprisingly, coal is a profitable business in Texas. According to a February 2013 report prepared by the University of North Texas for the Texas Mining and Reclamation Association, lignite coal mining, activated carbon manufacturing, and coal-fired electricity generate more than $6.2 billion in economic activity annually, provide 23,130 jobs that pay almost $1.7 billion in salaries, and direct $640 million in annual revenues to state and local taxing jurisdictions.

Coal miners, engineers, and small business owners represented the anti-proposal group; ranchers, farmers, environmental groups and a Mississippi preacher comprised the pro-proposal side. Some folks wore their opinion on t-shirts—coal miner pride, greenhouse gas fury, etc. Yet, regardless of dress, age, or vocation, all recognized that changing the act would influence their future.

A small-business owner told EPA how her business relationship with coal mines meant providing health insurance for her 15 employees, one of whom survived cancer, another a heart attack,and yet another who had just had a baby. A miner described how previous generations left his rural Texas community due to few employment opportunities. When the coal mines opened or expanded, so did job prospects, which meant generations once gone now stayed. He said he was thrilled having his grandkids grow up in his town.

Yet another compelling speaker discussed how climate change adversely affected his agriculture business, as well as the business of neighboring ranchers. This man described how continued drought conditions turned fertile soil to dust and that no water meant no crops, higher feed costs, and constant worry. He told the agency's representatives that agriculture sustains civilizations and civilizations collapse when agriculture fails, adding that he and his ranching friends worry U.S. agriculture is failing due to climate change caused by carbon emissions.

The preacher spoke of the high percentage of children afflicted with asthma, emphysema, and other lung ailments because of the coal mines in his community, he said. He said he worried about the children will be able to work once they're old enough, due to frail health and chronic disease.

According to EPA, the listening sessions will be used to develop "smart, cost-effective guidelines." Those unable to attend a public session are invited to email suggestions and concerns to the agency at [email protected]. For more information about public listening sessions, including locations, click here or visit www.epa.gov