SAN FRANCISCO — California officials, schoolchildren and at least one billionaire denounced the Trump administration’s plan to scrap Obama-era limits on emissions from power plants in blistering comments Wednesday to U.S. officials visiting a state that’s helping lead the fight against climate change.
Hundreds spoke in defense of the Clean Power Plan at a hearing in San Francisco, the latest in a series of nationwide “listening sessions” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its effort to repeal the restrictions. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has described them as part of former President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.”
Resistance to the rollback was a given in California, where switching to more renewable sources of electricity is mandated under Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. But officials from California, Washington state and Oregon turned out to make clear the extent of their opposition.
“I know this is a listening session, and I’m asking you, who are you listening to? The voices of outdated technology of the past?” Mary Nichols, chairwoman of California’s Air Resources Board, asked EPA officials.
“California is in complete opposition to the EPA’s proposal,” said Nichols, one of a half-dozen officials speaking from Brown’s administration.
It has pushed state programs that roll back reliance on coal-powered electrical plants, gas and diesel automobiles, and other carbon-burners. The governor also travels globally to urge on efforts and build alliances to cut climate-changing fossil fuels.
“Now more than ever is the time for the United States to be a leader and a partner on this,” Nichols said. “Not to walk away from this.”
Under Brown, California has committed to getting at least half its electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, by 2030. It is one of the first North American governments to experiment with cap-and-trade, a scheme meant to limit carbon emissions by selling credits to pollute.
By midday, all the speakers at one of several halls at San Francisco’s main library opposed the plan by President Donald Trump’s administration and supported West Coast efforts to curb climate change.
“Mr. Pruitt may not understand about asthma,” said Mary Zhu, a retired doctor and one of several medical workers testifying about health risks from car exhaust and other carbon pollution. “Go to an ICU, go to an ER, and then decide if you want to kill people.”
Pruitt called the Clean Power Plan, unveiled in 2015, regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
“We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate. Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule,” he said in announcing the repeal last year.
Parents, expectant mothers and at least two descendants of coal miners also spoke out Wednesday.
“As an American, I’m embarrassed that the United States is the only country moving away from the Paris accord,” Jim McMahon, a climate scientist from the San Francisco Bay Area, referencing the global pact to cut emissions.
Outside the listening session, more than 100 schoolchildren marched, banged drums and chanted, “No coal, no way, not ever not today.”
Most of the children were from Oakland, a more diverse, less affluent Bay Area city where opponents have battled a proposal to ship coal through its ports.
“I have friends who have asthma, and they’re going to die” because of coal, said Melisa Rodriguez, an 11-year-old marcher.
Steyer, a hedge-fund magnate and Trump opponent active in the fight for renewable energy, spoke briefly, and scathingly, to the environmental regulators inside.
“This can’t just be a sham listening session. Not when the health and prosperity of the American people is at stake,” Steyer said.