Union Contractors, Building Trades Doing Slow Burn Over Proposed Federal Coal Plant Emissions Rules; Mine Workers Plan Protest March

WASHINGTON–Union construction contractors, concerned about the availability of jobs in retrofitting and servicing the nation’s fleet of coal-burning power plants, are doing a slow burn over the Obama Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule curbing carbon emissions from those plants.  And they’re not the only ones.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades, opposes the EPA’s plan for the same reason: That plant owners would shut, not update or retrofit, plants, costing construction workers’ jobs. McGarvey blamed “radical environmentalists” and congressional inaction for EPA’s rules.  And The Mine Workers, also warning of the loss of thousands of jobs, plan a large protest march in Pittsburgh on July 31against the new rules, too.

EPA’s “Clean Power Plant Proposal,” released last month, would cut carbon pollution from the power plant sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  New emissions levels would be set state by state. EPA says it’s a “common sense” proposal that “will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.”

But the contractors, McGarvey and Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts retort that the cuts are so draconian that utilities, rather than retrofitting the plants, would shut them down. That would cost miners jobs digging for the coal, and contractors and their workers jobs.

“Many American coal-fired power plants will find it extremely difficult –- if not impossible -– to comply with the rule, forcing them to either shut down or convert wholesale to less-dependable and more price-volatile fuel sources,” the Association of Union Contractors says. “With this proposal, EPA continues to stack the deck against coal-fired generation, which supplies roughly 40 percent of the nation’s power.”

The EPA’s new rules are also intended to cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.  “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this (clean power) plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.”

The association says it is “a strong proponent of sensible emissions regulations,” with its member-contractors having “played a crucial role in improving America’s air quality by installing cutting-edge technology to reduce harmful emissions at hundreds of U.S. coal-fired power plants and manufacturing facilities.”  But EPA’s rule will cost it work, the group says.

Union contractors will have less work because “the cost of compliance will be so high that many coal-fired power plants will simply shut down or move away from coal altogether rather than go bankrupt trying to meet the unrealistic new limits,” it adds.

Stephen Lindauer, CEO of the Association of Union Contractors, said the EPA is proposing “the same old stale, misguided anti-coal proposals that have long been championed by environmental extremists.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen this episode before, and we know that it ends badly for our member contractors, their partners in the building trades unions and businesses and consumers across America,” Lindauer added.  “As proposed, this rule will severely endanger our country’s energy independence and economic stability.  And to add insult to injury, at the end of the day it will have very little impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions.”

McGarvey struck the same themes.  “Our unions are concerned these rules…proposed on an accelerated and unrealistic timetable for implementation, will cost us in higher electricity rates, in lost jobs, and in lost business growth due to a lack of affordable, reliable electricity.

“What these rules fail to acknowledge is that until large-scale renewable energy sources and their storage capabilities become commercially viable, the notion that we can meet our baseload energy needs through renewables is nothing short of fantasy.

“Equally frustrating is that we must bear witness to EPA, in effect, crafting national energy policy via regulatory fiat because our elected officials lack the political courage to develop a comprehensive energy policy,” McGarvey said.

“As a result, our nation is being forced, by a small band of federal bureaucrats beholden to radical environmentalists, to pick ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ with the losers falling disproportionately among a middle class that is sure to see higher energy costs and fewer opportunities for well-paying jobs,” McGarvey said.

Left unsaid: A Senate GOP filibuster threat killed a comprehensive energy bill, featuring cap-and-trade plans for carbon emissions, in the then-Democratic-run Congress in 2010.

Roberts says the EPA’s rules will slash tens of thousands of jobs for coal miners, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others while having no significant effect on global greenhouse gas emissions.  “Even the EPA doesn’t dispute that” jobs impact, he adds.

EPA “says other jobs will be created by this rule, but they won’t be in the coalfields and they won’t have the levels of pay and benefits our members earn.  Our members want to know what lies in the future for their families and communities, but so far the EPA has no answers,” he said.  So Mine Workers and their allies will make their voices heard at the July 31 march in Pittsburgh, where EPA will hold a public hearing on its proposed rules, Roberts said.

“We estimate this rule could take as much as $208 billion out of our communities over the next 20 years,” Roberts said.  “No matter how you look at it, there is no way the coalfield economy can take that kind of hit and survive.”