EPA head Scott Pruitt visits major Wyoming coal mine, preaches end of 'war on fossil fuels'
- Heather Richards 307-266-0592, Heather.Richards@trib.com
Two days after a crowd of 300 gathered in Gillette to debate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate emissions at the cost of the coal industry, the head of that
agency stood 20 miles away in one of the largest surface coal mines in the country: Black Thunder.Scott Pruitt, the controversial leader of the EPA, came to Wyoming at the invitation of Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi to see the coal industry first hand. The state provides about 40 percent of the thermal coal burned in the U.S. for power and would be uniquely affected by a carbon dioxide rule like the Clean Power Plan.The rule’s goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the electricity sector by about 30 percent compared to 2005 levels would have pressured utilities that buy Wyoming coal, wiping away customers that the coal industry around Wright and Gillette depend on.Those in favor of the rule are largely concerned about emissions’ contribution to climate change. Those opposed see it as an attack on the coal industry.Pruitt echoed that sentiment in an interview after touring Black Thunder. He said it was time for the agency to reverse what he described as a political attack on the fossil fuel industry. The review of the Clean Power Plan, a signature regulation from the Obama administration, is part of that, he said.“Our job is not to coerce markets,” Pruitt said. “Our job is not to come in and say this type of fuel is good or this fuel is not good.”The EPA’s regulations and guidelines should follow behind industry choices, not dictate them, he said.President Donald Trump, who appointed Pruitt, made repealing the emissions-cutting plan a central tenet of his campaign, promising a return of coal jobs.Pruitt said Thursday the final decision on the Clean Power Plan is not certain. The agency would review the new round of comments on repeal and move forward.“What we are in the process of doing is providing regulatory certainty,” he said. “Then we need to look forward and say what authority do we have?”However, Pruitt also said the Clean Power Plan appeared to be outside the bounds of the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act.That is a position shared by others present at the mine Thursday including the senators, Gillette mayor Louise Carter King, Campbell County Commissioner Mark Christensen and the mayor of nearby Wright, Ralph Kingan.“We cannot allow this incredible resource to be stranded in the ground,” Barrasso said. “There is just so much energy here.”Enzi, once the mayor of Gillette, thanked Pruitt for coming in person. It’s one thing to tell people about the size and scope of a mine like Black Thunder, owned by Arch Coal. But a visit to coal country, he said, “is worth a thousand pictures.”Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner