EPA assailed for leaving coal country off climate hearing tour

Republicans are condemning an Environmental Protection Agency official’s comment that it only held hearings on its climate rule in places where people would be “comfortable.”

Janet McCabe, who heads the EPA’s air pollution efforts, made the comment at a Wednesday hearing, when Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP lawmaker suggests duel with female senators Pro-ObamaCare group targets key senators in new ads Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan MORE (R-W.Va.) pressed her to say why the agency did not schedule any listening sessions on its landmark carbon rule for power plants in West Virginia or other places in Appalachian coal country.

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“We did have a lot of meetings around the country,” McCabe responded at the hearing of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

“When we were scheduling national level meetings, we wanted to have those in locations where people were comfortable coming,” she continued.

Capito said she wasn’t pleased with the answer.

“You can get to West Virginia; we’re not that isolated,” she said. “But this heavily impacts, heavily impacts, the economics of our state, our ability to compete.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate GOP: McCain may return for ObamaCare vote Tuesday McConnell urges Senate to start ObamaCare repeal debate Tuesday Trump pressures GOP ahead of healthcare vote MORE (R-Ky.), another strong critic of the EPA rule, joined Capito Thursday in her criticism.

McConnell repeatedly asked the EPA to hold a hearing in coal country to gather input on the rule’s impact on coal-producing states. Instead, the agency stuck to its original plan of holding hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

“We knew this administration had no interest in visiting coal country, and now we know why — because it makes them uncomfortable to look Kentucky coal miners and their families in the eye and tell them what they plan to do to their communities,” McConnell said in a statement.

The EPA estimates that the rule would take a large bite out of coal’s market share for electricity generation, reducing it to 31 percent by 2030 from the current 39 percent.

“As this administration continues to take steps to destroy the coal industry and the livelihoods of thousands of Kentuckians, I will continue the fight against these job-destroying regulations and make sure the administration is forced to face the reality of what they’re doing to those in coal country,” McConnell said.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said it chose hearing locations based on accessibility and available space.

“We chose locations in different regions, as well as the nation’s capital, because they were easily accessible that had space available during the timeframe we needed,” she said.

She also disagreed with the idea that the EPA avoided coal-producing states, since Pennsylvania ranks No. 5 in the nation for coal production, and numerous miners came to the Pittsburgh hearing.

Additionally, top EPA officials have met on the proposal with government and business leaders in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and other major coal states.

Purchia said the EPA outreach was “unprecedented” and included taking in more than 3.6 million comments, 11 listening sessions before the proposal, four hearings after and a 120-day comment period.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said his panel will hold its own hearing in West Virginia on the climate rule.