By Patrick Cagle
Executive Director of JobKeeper Alliance
Climate change was the policy plan that President Obama spent the most time outlining during his inaugural address. During this time of prolonged economic uncertainty and lagging job creation, Mr. Obama ignored the wellbeing of working families and adopted an agenda pushed by radical environmental interest groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and San Francisco-based Sierra Club.
According to a recent New York Times article, the president will likely sidestep congress and use his executive powers to further reduce the use of coal. This comes on the heels of new EPA regulations enacted in 2012, which are causing hundreds of coal plants to shutdown and killing as many as 17,000 jobs, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
This means that Alabama’s coal-dependant jobs will be under attack both nationally and locally. Last month the SELC formed a state level energy campaign targeting the use of coal in Alabama. JobKeeper Alliance has been fighting the SELC’s attempt to stop the job-creating Northern Beltline project, and we will vigorously oppose this new effort, which threatens the jobs of thousands of Alabamians who earn their livelihood from the mining, transportation, and use of coal.
The SELC has recruited other environmental groups to join their effort to remove coal from Alabama’s energy portfolio. So far, the groups that have joined the SELC’s campaign include the Alabama Environmental Council (AEC), Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA), and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). On December 5, 2012, these groups publicly launched their energy campaign by hosting a public forum. The event was nothing more than a shrewd attempt to put a grassroots facade on an astroturf campaign.
AEC, the front group for this energy campaign, has gone to great lengths to convince informed Alabamians that public input led them to lobby our Public Service Commission (PSC) to hold formal rate hearings and to give third-party groups access to an energy planning document known as the Intergraded Resource Plan (IRP). They might have fooled us if this strategy had not been recycled from the playbook the SACE and SELC recently used in Georgia. This strategy allowed these radical environmental groups to force the Georgia PSC to shutdown more than 10 coal-fired generation units. As a result of these shutdowns, Georgia will lose 480 power plant jobs plus the loss of hundreds of other indirect jobs.
Here in Alabama, the anti-coal agenda pushed by these radical environmental groups is gaining traction at the PSC, thanks to Commissioner Terry Dunn. At the last PSC meeting, Commissioner Dunn criticized the previously approved plant calling for an informal review of the utility ratemaking process and insisted that there must instead be a formal review. His fellow commissioners, Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden, strongly disagreed. Both say that the informal review process welcomes public input in a town hall style setting, while the formal review process occurs in a court-like setting where lawyers talk to other lawyers without interaction from the general public.
Some observers suggest that Commissioner Dunn’s unwavering demand for formal hearings are the result of advice from his chief of staff, David Rountree, who happens to be a longtime friend of AEC Executive Director Michael Churchman. Others say that Commissioner Dunn’s position is merely politically motivated demagoguery. Commissioner Dunn recently told JobKeeper Alliance that his demand for formal hearings is strictly based on what he feels is best for utility customers, and that neither he nor Rountree had been communicating with the environmental groups that have recently become active at the PSC.
We are certain that anti-coal activists would exploit formal hearings. However, we trust, but will verify, Commissioner Dunn’s claim that neither he nor Rountree has been communicating with these environmental groups. JobKeeper recently submitted an Open Records Act request to the PSC seeking copies of documented communication related to this issue.
We are also concerned about bias reporting on this subject by several state newspapers. It is irresponsible to engage in editorial vilification and criticize claims that your paper has failed to investigate. Substitute your opinion with facts and report both sides of this issue. Ask AEC if they plan to ask the PSC to close any coal-fired power plants. Ask SACE if they advocated for the retirement of coal-fired units during formal rate hearings held by the Georgia PSC. Ask the SELC if their lawyers represented SACE in their fight against coal at the Georgia PSC.
We applaud PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Jeremy Oden for protecting Alabama jobs and utility customers. By requiring the ratemaking process to be reviewed in a public setting, Cavanaugh and Oden are preventing the process from being hijacked by the same radical environmental groups that used formal rate hearings held by the Georgia PSC to fight against the use of coal.
JobKeeper Alliance will continue to fight the efforts of radical environmental groups whose anti-coal agenda threatens thousands of Alabama jobs and our state’s ability to compete for new economic development projects.
JobKeeper Alliance is a nonprofit organization formed as a partnership between the business community and labor groups to advocate for the creation and protection of jobs. Learn more at JobKeeperAlliance.org