By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Sierra Club’s Director of Beyond Coal Campaign, Mary Ann Hitt inserted herself into the 2014 election cycle by attacking popular Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Alabama Power, coal powered electrical plants and even Alabama’s new cleaner burning natural gas burning electrical plants.
Director Hitt wrote in an email to Sierra Club members in Alabama, “Activists like you have won some important battles in the fight for Alabama’s clean energy future. It’s a fight that has often pitted Alabama’s families against Big Coal, utility companies, lobbyists — and even Gov. Robert J. Bentley. Now that fight’s about to get a lot bigger. President Obama has made tackling climate-destroying carbon pollution a priority. As the EPA works to develop strong and just new safeguards protecting us from carbon pollution, they’ll be counting on people in states like Alabama to help decide the best approach.”
The Public Service Commission regulates Alabama Power and is responsible for the state’s energy plan, which is currently based on coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric.
Public Service Commission Place 2 candidate Jonathan Barbee (R) was quick to respond to Hitt’s attack on Bentley. Barbee wrote on Facebook, “Just the latest example of liberal environmentalists targeting Alabama. As your next PSC Commissioner, I will fight the liberals to preserve Alabama’s jobs and our economy. More people need to be aware of what they’re trying to do.”
PSC Place 2 Candidate Chris “Chip” Beeker (R) wrote on Facebook,
“Liberal environmental groups have been attacking Alabama conservatives and our state’s coal industry over the past year. Now, these same groups, who are doing the bidding of President Obama, are attacking our great governor. As a candidate for the Public Service Commission, not only will I continue to fight these radical liberal groups, but I will also stand with Governor Bentley who said in his… State of the State…I will not allow anyone, not the federal government nor any other agency, to stand in the way of the use of those (Alabama’s) natural resources…The email sent out by the Sierra Club is evidence that Alabama is on the front lines of the Obama White House self proclaimed ‘War on Coal’ and that war is for our coal jobs. As a state and as a party, we cannot allow these liberal special interest groups such as the Sierra Club and others attack our jobs and our Republican leaders.”
Hitt made it clear that she isn’t open to compromise. Hitt wrote,
“Our nation’s aging coal plants are some of the biggest contributors of climate-destroying carbon pollution, as well as toxic waste like mercury, soot, ash, and heavy metals that are harmful even in tiny concentrations. And we can’t give a free pass to natural gas — more gas in the electricity sector just means more pollution. We need strong standards that limit pollution from coal and natural gas-fired power plants, and we need a commitment to true clean energy like wind and solar. Activists like you have shown time and again that Alabama is ready to take those steps, even if Gov. Bentley refuses to take action. Already the big polluters are getting organized. They’ll try to use their insider influence to continue their free ride. But we can’t let their lobbyists and allies — like Gov. Bentley — drown out the people of Alabama who want true action on climate. “
Barbee and Beeker are in a crowded Republican field for PSC Place 2. Incumbent PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn (R) has announced his intent to seek re-election. Alabama Minority GOP Chairman Phillip Brown (R) has also announced that he is running for the office and has leveled attacks on “radical environmentalists” in recent speeches.
Place 2 Commissioner Terry Dunn has come under fire from some conservatives and industry groups who claim that Dunn has ties to radical environmentalists who they say want to close Alabama’s coal powered electricity plants down.
Alabama Power has come under unprecedented criticism over the past year from environmental groups and critics of the utility’s rate structure.
Governor Bentley does not have a Democratic opponent to this point. Hitt’s attack on the governor, may indicate that some Democrats would like to make energy an election year issue, if and when Bentley has credible opposition.