In a rare chance for the Bay Area to speak directly to the presidential administration it routinely rebukes, residents took to the mic on Wednesday to largely defend Obama-era environmental regulations before the Environmental Protection Agency repeals them.
The Clean Power Plan is seen as the country’s main hope for combating climate change through boosting renewable energy sources and disincentivizing fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. Once EPA Chief Scott Pruitt — who frequently sued the agency in his former role as Oklahoma’s attorney general — stepped in, it was clear regulations detested by the declining coal industry were on the chopping block.
“EPA has proposed to repeal the so-called Clean Power Plan because it was premised on a novel and expansive view of the Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act,” said an EPA spokesperson in a statement on Wednesday. “The Clean Power Plan would also have had serious economic impacts on our country while doing little to help the environment.”
But under the Administrative Procedure Act, public comment is required for proposed regulation by federal agencies like the EPA. To ensure geographically diverse comments, the EPA has held three listening sessions in West Virginia, Missouri and San Francisco — which made sure to rally the troops.
Before the meeting even began, the Center for Biological Diversity staged a funeral for a polar bear named Frostpaw outside the library and walked the procession around the building past — presumably — tech workers waiting for their commuter vehicles.
(Though the group used Frostpaw as a symbol of climate change, speakers emphasized the impact of climate disasters and pollution on humans. By the EPA’s own data, the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 pediatric asthma attacks.)
About 500 people registered to show up throughout the 11-hour day at San Francisco Main Library but half were able to speak for up to three minutes, according to an EPA spokesperson. Obvious characters from environmental groups like Earthjustice and regional politicians like Farrell spoke in front of EPA officials but so did regular individuals.
A San Anselmo resident spoke of flood worries; 11-year-olds from Oakland pleaded for the government to not doom their future health and safety; engineers offered expertise on energy efficiency helped by the Clean Power Plan; and environmental scientists reminded officials that evidence is stacked against them. Dozens repeated the importance of protecting the one-and-only Earth.
“It should be your sole duty to protect the environment that we live in,” Sacramento resident Harrison Reynolds told EPA officials. “[The EPA] should be invincible to corporate persuasion.”
Few were in opposition, like president of the Kentucky Coal Association and San Francisco resident Alex Epstein, who described himself as an energy philosopher. Both spoke of the cheap cost of fossil fuels as necessary for lower-income people around the world, which other speakers countered with the consistently-decreasing cost of renewable energy.
Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, also told EPA officials that the comment period is a “sham” as Pruitt’s past statements against the regulations show his mind is already made. But comments made are nonetheless critical in the ultimate case to keep the regulations.
A federal court is holding up a lawsuit against the proposal to give the EPA time to come up with its replacement, which Pardee says lacks legal standing. It must comprehensively explain the rationale behind changing course but has so far manipulated data, she says.
“What they’re doing is so riddled with errors it will not stand up,” Pardee says. “This is an insidious, insidious attempt.”
The EPA will hold one more public hearing in Gillette, Wyo. but anyone can submit a comment online until April 26. An agency spokesperson told SF Weekly that comments would be used to help craft a replacement plan but did not offer a specific timeline on when the plan would be unveiled.