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Union head says EPA's proposed standards for new power plants 'threaten' economy

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 24, 2013


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said Monday the Environmental Protection Agency's newly proposed emission rules "threaten" economic growth and the nation's energy future.

The rules, released Friday, aim to cut carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants.

"The new rules would, in effect, stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States by enforcing emission-reduction goals that just aren't realistic using today's technology for carbon capture and sequestration," IBEW President Edwin D. Hill said in a statement.

Under the EPA's newest proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, giving those units additional operational flexibility.

The federal agency says the proposal achieves the first milestone outlined in President Barack Obama's June Memorandum to the EPA on "Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards," a major part of the President's Climate Action Plan.

"Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement Friday.

"These standards will also spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy."

Hill said the IBEW remains a strong supporter of clean coal technology, but argues that the EPA's newest rules simply are out of reach.

"In mandating new coal plants use technology that is not even commercially available or affordable, the EPA is unfairly singling out the coal industry and setting back efforts to grow the economy and promote energy independence," he said.

"This means higher electricity bills for consumers and layoffs and economic slowdown for tens of thousands of working families that rely on the coal industry for employment."

Hill noted that the EPA itself has estimated that mandating carbon capture and storage technology that still has not been deemed commercially viable would raise the cost of electricity by 80 percent.

"President Obama has always said he supports an 'all-of-the-above' energy policy that values a diverse energy portfolio, including coal. But by effectively banning the construction of new coal-fired plants, the EPA is forcing America into heavy reliance on the volatile natural gas market, abandoning our nation's largest fossil fuel base and large parts of coal-producing America along with it," he said.

"Strong job growth and energy independence cannot be achieved without coal, a key part of our energy mix."

The IBEW, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, has about 750,000 members.

West Virginia's attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, was one of the first to react to the EPA's proposed rules.

Like Hill, he argues that the federal agency's proposed rules would effectively ban new coal-fired power plants.

"The agency's proposal sets new standards of approximately 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour -- standards that represent a massive reduction from current practices," the attorney general said Friday, noting that coal is a "critical" component of the nation's electrical grid and West Virginia's economy.

"Our state is the second largest producer of coal, and this move by the EPA basically slams the door on coal as a long-term source of electricity and energy.

"It is a blatant attempt to promote a reckless agenda that picks winners and losers and puts our nation's goal for energy independence in a tenuous position."

He also contends the proposed rules will just end up hamstringing the Mountain State's economy.

"I've seen little from the White House or the EPA on what people in Boone, Marshall, Logan, Marion, Mingo, Monongalia and other counties around the state should do when their local coal mines have layoffs," the attorney general said.

"Based on this proposal, I cannot see how anyone could question the EPA's intention to take coal out of the equation.

"West Virginia cannot idly sit by and allow politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., to cripple our economy."

Morrisey said his office plans to review "every word of every paragraph of every page" in the proposed regulations.

"The Obama Administration has a history of overstepping its legal authority to the detriment of West Virginia jobs," he said.

"West Virginia will not shy away from this battle against Obama's EPA."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers