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REVOLT! Six major unions beg the Senate to stop EPA coal regulations

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President Barack Obama’s crackdown on coal-fired power plants is getting major pushback from a traditional Democratic ally: Unions.

Six unions are petitioning the Senate to hold hearings on Environmental Protection Agency coal plant rules.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and five other unions sent a letter to top senators on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold hearings on the economic impacts of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.

“During the rulemaking process our unions stated for the record that MATS and its short compliance timeline would result in the closing of 56 Gigawatts of coal-fired generation and the loss of approximately 250,000 jobs. Despite assurances by EPA to the contrary, our prediction is now coming to pass,” reads the letter signed by major unions, including the United Mine Workers, Boilermakers and Utility Workers.

The EPA’s MATS rule limits the emissions of pollutants like mercury, arsenic and metals from power plants. MATS is one of the costliest clean air rules the agency has promulgated, imposing $10.2 billion in annual compliance costs, according to government estimates.

Coal plant have already been slated for retirement or shuttered due to high compliance costs associated with MATS.

Last summer, FirstEnergy Corp. announced the shuttering of two Pennsylvania coal plants, in part, due to MATS, which would have required the company to spend $275 million to bring the two coal plants into compliance. It was more economical to close them.

More than a year ago, Georgia Power asked state regulators if it could shut down 15 coal and oil-fired generators before April 16, 2015 — the date MATS is set to go into effect.

“As the deadline for compliance with MATS approaches, we are increasingly concerned with the effect of a short compliance timeline as hundreds of coal generating units retire and are permanently removed from service,” the unions wrote to Senate lawmakers. “Our concerns are compounded by the reduction in utility revenues from existing generation, increased reliance on demand response, and from unregulated distributed generation.”

“Needless to say, the more plants that retire, the more jobs will be lost,” the unions added. “In addition, as these plants retire, sufficient generation assets to meet demand become questionable, as witnessed by the astronomical electric price spikes during the recent polar vortex.”

Unions have been pushing back against the Obama administration’s crackdown on coal power for years now. In particular, coal miners unions and boilermakers have been pleading with federal lawmakers and EPA officials to scale back rules aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants — effectively banning these plants unless they adopt costly emissions control technology.

“I represent more than 2,000 boilermakers in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. My members learned the hard way that the EPA’s goal isn’t clean air; it’s eliminating coal and our way of life,’” writes Raymond Ventrone, business manager for Boilermakers Local 154, in a letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year.

The United Mine Workers have rebelled against the Obama administration by withholding campaign donations. The union opted not to support Obama’s reelection in 2012 after supporting him in 2008.

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