Wow! I was confident that people would turn out to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan at last week’s public hearings in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington, D.C., but I wasn’t counting on a success this big. Advocates for clean air and cleaning up carbon pollution made their voices heard with both passion and eloquence. The opposition showed up, but they really couldn’t compete with the notion that clean energy will cut costs, create jobs, clean up our air and water, and give us a shot at stabilizing our climate. All week long, the hearings confirmed the broad support we’ve seen from all kinds of people since the day the EPA announced its plan.
The diversity of the voices demanding action was especially impressive. In Denver, for instance, testifiers included a retired Air Force Captain who literally wrote the book on the national security implications of climate disruption, local clean-energy business owners, some kids from New Mexico who sang a song in support of the Clean Power Plan (lots of kids at these hearings!), representatives from the ski and winter sports industry, and tribal leaders from across the West.
In Atlanta, my friend the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus was just one of many faith leaders (including quite a few evangelicals and conservative Christians) who spoke eloquently about our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation.
And everywhere: People showed up because they believe it’s long past time our nation gets serious about the pollution that’s disrupting our climate.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself what happened and who testified by checking out the Sierra Club’s Storify page.
Successful as it was, though, last week only marked the first steps of a much longer journey toward our goal of ending carbon pollution from coal- and gas-fired power plants and accelerating the transition from dirty fuels to clean energy. The good news is that the way the EPA has structured its plan — with each state required to develop its own plan for meeting the guidelines — tilts the field to our advantage. The Sierra Club not only is the largest environmental organization in the country; we’re also the one with the most grassroots organizing muscle. That means we can push hard to make each state’s plan both smart and effective, with as much clean energy and energy efficiency as possible.
One last thing to remember about these hearings: Most opposition to the plan has come from the usual suspects — the same voices that have opposed every attempt to curb pollution for the past 40 years. But some people at the hearings, those whose livelihood depends on the coal industry, are sincerely afraid for their jobs. The truth is that coal jobs have been in trouble for a long time, and the Clean Power Plan, at most, will only hasten the inevitable. But we still have a responsibility to hear those voices — and to make sure that in the rush to clean energy we don’t leave those folks behind. We’ve already shown how to do that in Washington State, where we worked with municipalities and utilities to ease the transition from coal plants by ensuring that workers are transferred to other energy jobs. As in Washington State, we need to make sure that the transition to clean energy isn’t made on the backs of workers and their families.
Overall, though, last week’s hearings look like cause for celebration. The Clean Power Plan is not perfect and needs to be strengthened, but it is the most significant piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. And it’s off to a rousing start. We’ll see bumps along the way, I’m sure, but the path to clean energy, clean air, and climate action has never looked brighter.