Help wanted: Supporters for coal lobby

DENVER — The coal industry is resorting to online classifieds to bolster its ranks.

“We hear stories of people paying folks $50 through Craigslist to come and wear shirts supporting ‘Coal for America,’” Lisa Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator and surprise guest at the “Rebel With A Cause” gala, told a ballroom of activists on Thursday night.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson speaks in Denver. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
In advance of yesterday’s EPA hearings in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for the first-ever carbon standards for new power plants, there was indeed at least one advertisement posted on Craigslist in Chicago titled “People needed to attend a public meeting” (see screen shot at bottom of page) that said “all you need to do is wear a t-shirt in support of an energy project for two hours” to get a free lunch and $50. Photographs of young men sporting “America Counts on Coal” t-shirts surfaced on the Internet today.

“What’s really neat is the thousands of people who came because they care, the moms who came,” Jackson said to a receptive crowd that filled the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts for dinner, a live auction and awards ceremony.

The audience stood and clapped when Jackson took the stage as the gala’s surprise guest. Her treatment here was quite different than what she receives in the nation’s capitol.

“It’s so rare that I walk into the room … and hear the applause that which counters those things I hear inside the Washington Beltway, which is that ‘average Americans just don’t care about air and water.’

“We know better,” she said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper at the "Rebel With A Cause" gala in Denver last night. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
She commended U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., for working to make the processes of hydraulic fracturing more transparent. Colorado has been a leader in regulating “fracking,” Jackson noted. The EPA is currently in the midst of a two-year study on the health impacts of the controversial method of extracting oil and gas from the ground by drilling and flushing holes with sand, water and chemicals.

“We want to help states that are trying to ensure that the wealth and potential that lies in natural gas doesn’t come at a price that would be far too high,” she said, adding that the agency plans to roll out the first results of its study at the end of the year with more to follow as the information becomes available.

“Our heritage is no more beautifully on display than in the Rocky Mountains,” said Jackson, who is in Colorado to speak to a Denver high school today about science and technology. She also mentioned she’d be meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper, who dropped in on the gala to socialize.

Some of Colorado’s biggest critics of the EPA weren’t in the room. But U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn have consistently voted for legislation that weakens the U.S. government’s ability to regulate pollution that spoils the nation’s common air, water and land.

“We have a canon of environmental laws in this country that is under siege,” Jackson said.

To combat the undermining of environmental laws, two state conservation groups, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters, announced a merger at last night’s gala that will see Pete Maysmith at the helm of the new organization, which has not been named yet.

“Our stunning mountains, flowing rivers, gorgeous lakes, and clear blue skies brought us to Colorado and have kept us here,” Maysmith said. “We all know there is much more to be done to protect and preserve Colorado’s beauty and enhance the quality of life for all.”

Elise Jones, the outgoing executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the new group will “create an uber force for the environment, a juggernaut for Colorado’s natural heritage.”

Jones is leaving nonprofit work to run for a seat on the Boulder County Board of Commissioners.

The merger of the two organizations has been talked about for a number of years, according to the conservationists, and they said now is the time to combine the strengths of both groups: Colorado Environmental Coalition’s policy, advocacy and organizing work and Colorado Conservation Voters’ focus on electing pro-environment candidates to public office and holding them accountable.

Officials for the two groups say they have combined to affect more than 130 different bills at the state legislature in the past six years, taking on water conservation, air quality, energy efficiency and transit.

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