Unions protest EPA regulations causing coal plant closings

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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In the wake of recently announced coal plant closings, Pennsylvania unions are speaking out against strict federal environmental regulations.

Union members held a rally Friday to protest policies aimed at promoting clean energy, but which local workers believe cripple the coal industry.

“In the war on coal, we are not going to surrender, and you are the soldiers who are going to fight back,”Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy said to the crowd of about 150 workers outside the Boilermakers Local 154 union hall.

Recently it was announced that FirstEnergy Corp. was shuttering two Pennsylvania coal plants due to poor market conditions and strict Environmental Protection Agency rules. The EPA’s Mercury Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, would require the company spend $275 million to upgrade the two plants.

“Make your case with the American people. Have some accountability. But what’s been happening with the EPA and other groups is they have no accountability,” Murphy said. “They come up with regulations and they don’t explain them to us. Well, I’m going to make sure they do, and when they do I’m going to make sure it’s done with scientific rigor and not just someone making up a formula and saying that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Murphy has been critical of EPA actions on coal, and has sent acting administrator Bob Perciasepe a letter asking information on the data used to calculate the benefits of clean air regulations.

“Congressman Murphy’s always been on the side of labor, and he knows this is a big labor issue. If they shut those two plants down, it’s an attack on coal is what it is,” said Raymond Ventrone, the business manager for Boilermakers Local 154.

President Obama has also promised to go after carbon-heavy fuels, particularly coal, in an effort to address global warming. Environmentalists have urged the president to be more aggressive in dealing with climate change in his second term.

The Obama administration has also had to fight off criticisms that it is waging a war on coal.

The president “expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Reuters. It is “all about having, in fact, coal as part of that future. I don’t believe it is a ‘war on coal.'”

Existing regulations plus new ones in the pipeline are projected to close more than 280 coal plants in the coming years, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

“If the Obama administration fails to recognize the environmental progress the industry has made and continues to adopt more regulations, coal power could cease to exist, which would be devastating for our economy,” said Mike Duncan, the organization’s president.

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