The Electrical Worker online
January 2015

Unions to EPA:
Grid Reliability at Risk
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Eight union presidents including International President Edwin D. Hill sent a letter to President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency objecting to proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions that would displace tens of thousands of workers.

The proposed Clean Power Plan unveiled June 14 would, for the first time, treat carbon dioxide, methane and other gases connected to global climate change as pollutants. When the final rule is published, it will also be the first time greenhouse gas limits would apply to existing power plants, not just new construction.

The letter is one more part of the campaign by the IBEW against the rule. Members testified at all four public hearings held by the EPA over the summer and thousands of union members publicly protested the proposal at a July 31 rally in Pittsburgh.

In the Nov. 18 letter, the union presidents say the rule is "unrealistic " and "unworkable" and "will adversely affect the reliability of the electrical grid… and expose customers and energy-sensitive industries to highly volatile electricity prices." The letter also says the proposed rule would cause "severe employment dislocations… that threaten the unions with damaging losses."

By forcing states to reduce their carbon emissions, the EPA predicts that almost 50 coal plants would close, in addition to the 60 to 70 plants that will likely close because of the recent regulations cutting mercury emissions. Almost 50,000 jobs would be lost at those plants and nearly twice that number in surrounding communities. Together, the plants represent more than 40 percent of the nation's coal power capacity, around 125 gigawatts.

"As it is now, this rule forces Americans to pay too high a price for too little gain," Hill said. "It threatens the reliability of the grid, puts tens of thousands of high-skill, high-wage union workers out on the street and offers no support for them or incentives to build the infrastructure of the future."

The presidents make more than a dozen recommendations for changes to the rules, from extending deadlines to scrapping entire sections of the rule. For example, the letter requests the EPA either include help for workers displaced by the rules change, or delay implementing the rule until Congress acts. They also recommend rewriting the rules to connect domestic closures to a global climate agreement.

This is the first official comment by the IBEW submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency during the public comment period for the proposed rule. Utility Department Director Jim Hunter said that the IBEW would have an additional statement before the comment period closed Dec. 1 on topics that the joint letter did not address, like the need to increase nuclear power in the generation mix.

"There was no mention in the rules of the role nuclear must play in any federal rules about renewable and emissions-free power generation," Hunter said. "We did not address that in the joint letter, but we will in the comments we are preparing now."

Hunter said there is a deeper problem that amending the proposed rules doesn't solve.

"The EPA is the wrong place to set national energy policy. That's Congress' job and they failed to do it," Hunter said. "It's like having a job where you need a wrench but the boss has only given you a screwdriver. No matter how skillfully you do the job, it would be a lot better with the right tool."

President Hill was joined in the letter by:

  • Walter Wise, general president of the Iron Workers
  • Newton Jones, international president of the Boilermakers
  • John Previsch, president of the SMART Transportation Division
  • Dennis R. Pierce, Teamsters Rail Conference president
  • Robert Scardaletti, national president of the Transportation Communication Workers
  • Cecil Roberts, Jr., international president of the Mineworkers
  • D. Michael Langford, international president of the Utility Workers


The IBEW and other unions maintain that proposed carbon rules would expose customers to highly volatile electricity prices.