by Chris Flanagan
On July 29, 2014, I embarked on a journey that would hopefully change the energy profile of the State of Missouri and the United States of America. I traveled to Denver, Colorado to speak at one of the four Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearings on the Clean Power Plan proposed by the EPA, earlier this year.
The morning air was crisp and I was filled with anticipation and butterflies. I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be hordes of people potentially hostile to any person who would make an argument for clean energy or would I be amongst friends in Colorado? The suspense was killing me. I got onto my flight and prepared myself for the day ahead.
I landed in Denver and waited for my ride. With the Rocky Mountains in the background, I headed towards downtown Denver for the hearing. Just past the airport, I saw something I had never seen before: fields of solar panels. It was an amazing sight to behold. They didn’t look out of place nor were they taking up any additional space. They were just in between the two lanes on the highway. I thought to myself “I hope no one wrecks and destroys these solar panels.” I never saw any wrecks, but it was clear: I was in friendly territory.
I checked into my hotel and proceeded to the EPA building. The room was filled with clean energy advocates. The American Lung Association had paid for a mobile billboard, which was parked outside the EPA building, advocating the need for cleaner air for all, especially children, to breathe. Multiple groups helped raise awareness of the hearings and encouraged people to speak to the EPA and ensure their voices were heard.
I entered the EPA building, went up to the 2nd floor and walked down a long hallway to the registration room. Enthusiastic men and women in the room greeted me. I registered and headed to Hearing Room B. I waited patiently for my turn to speak. I listened as speaker after speaker advocated for even higher goals in cutting carbon emissions. Then I was called up to the “speaker’s bullpen.” This is where I sat and waited to be called on while others gave their speeches.
All eyes were on me and the other speakers. Feeling tense, I thumbed through my iPhone until I heard a woman speak. Her name was Kiera. She spoke about her genetic disorder that her father had passed onto her. This genetic disorder is worsened by contact with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As she held back the tears, she pleaded with the EPA to make the regulations even stricter. Then she was done. The next person to be called upon was…
In my head, I asked, “I have to follow THAT?” Well, okay. I guess I had to. I got up there and began to give my speech:
“Good [morning/afternoon/evening], my name is Chris Flanagan and I am here on behalf of Renew Missouri, a non-profit advocacy group working to progress renewable energy and energy efficiency policies in Missouri.
I am here today to have on the record our official stance on the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposed rule for its Clean Power Plan. We agree with the EPA on the need for the United States to significantly cut carbon emissions and focus on cleaner sources of energy. We applaud the President and the EPA for taking ownership of this effort and leading the way. As stated in the recent Time Magazine article “The Green Revolution Is Here,” the United States has already decreased it’s carbon emission output by 17% of its 2005 levels in recent years. We are currently halfway there to the President’s intended goal of a 30% reduction by 2030.
However, we also believe that the EPA’s goal for Missouri — a 21% reduction from 2012 levels — is easily achievable, and should be more aggressive. Quick analysis reveals that if Missouri’s largest utilities simply comply with policies already in place, Missouri would reach compliance with its goal by 2020 or soon after. This does not even take into account Missouri’s municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives, which are also very reliant on coal. A more stringent standard would have a greater chance of affecting significant change in Missouri’s power portfolio.
It’s not just non-profits like ourselves who would like to see this change, it also small businesses in Missouri and across the nation. We hear from numerous opponents that this proposed rule will hurt small businesses and small business owners do not want these rules enacted. Small Business Majority, a national small business organization dedicated to solving the biggest problems that face small businesses today, conducts numerous scientific polling on a variety of issues. In their polling, they have found that 52% of small business owners support the EPA regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants that cause climate change. This is something small business owners want, a more consistent, renewable energy source for the future.
Opponents of the rule also state that the United States should focus on cheap energy. Renew Missouri could not agree more. That is why we urge the EPA to ensure that its final rule maximizes the opportunity and incentive for states to comply by investing in energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the cheapest investment utilities can make to meet demand, and it also happens to be the lowest carbon-output alternative available. First and foremost, states should be capturing all cost-effective energy efficiency before considering any other compliance options. In addition, although natural gas is currently a cheap form of electric generation, it is not a long-term solution. Emerging technologies like wind and solar are rapidly decreasing in price, and already employ thousands of Missourians. These technologies are improving, and with strategic investments to reach new economies of scale, wind and solar will soon be the cheapest forms of electric generation available. As a nation, we should not waste this regulatory opportunity on technologies that will always be based on finite resources that emit large amounts of carbon into our atmosphere.
Renewable energy and energy efficiency is the way of the future and the most cost-effective, long-term way to reduce carbon emissions. It is imperative for the United States to be a world leader in renewable energy and efficiency.
I received some applause, but the head EPA spokeswoman reminded the crowd that there was no applause to be given. I sat down and listened to the other speakers. In total, I heard 30 speakers for the proposal and five speakers speaking against it on Day 1.
I ended up meeting a few new people and headed to an event that I was invited to. It was being held at the Alliance Center. This building had 30 different non-profits working towards a more sustainable future for Colorado. They were hosting dinner for us and I was able to enjoy some food and beverages (non-alcoholic of course) with like-minded associates speaking about how their community organizing has led to a drastic change in Colorado’s energy profile. I was so inspired by how these people lived for cleaner renewable energy. After the event, I headed back to the hotel, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I awoke ready to hear the first half of day two’s EPA speakers. Day 2 had more opponents to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The UMWA had many of their members there in droves. All wearing camouflaged shirts and orange/camo hats. I thought I was going on a hunting trip. They were all very nice, cordial men. They weren’t the most eloquent speakers but they made their appeal to the EPA in a nice, effective manner. Many were recent retirees afraid that their pension funds would run out if coal jobs went away. I couldn’t imagine how they must have felt to have counted on something to be there for them years down the road and then for their pensions to be potentially taken away. The numbers for the morning hearings were 11 in favor of the proposal and 13 against it.
I unfortunately couldn’t stay, as I had a flight to catch. As I made my way to the airport, I was still unsure about the future of this Clean Power Plan. Would it withstand the tests of time and our democratic process? Would it make any significant difference in demand for renewable energy? Would we ever see the level of civic involvement in Missouri that I saw in Denver? I remain unsure, but if we, as clean energy advocates, don’t stand up and let ourselves be heard, there is no way we can possibly win.