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Alabama Power to Close Coal Power Plants

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Friday, August 1, the Alabama Power Company announced that in response to heavy handed regulation by the federal government, they will close two coal generating units in North Alabama and reduce or eliminate coal power units at Barry Steam Plant in Mobile County.  Alabama Power’s announcement comes in response to a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on greenhouse gases at existing power plants that would make the cost of retrofitting the old plants cost prohibitive.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R) from Mobile issued a written statement following the announcement.  Representative Byrne said, “It is extremely alarming to learn that Alabama Power will be closing coal units in North Alabama and cutting down on operations at Barry Steam Plant in North Mobile County due to an ill-conceived rule from the EPA. Just earlier this week I joined my colleagues from the Congressional Coal Caucus to draw attention to the harmful effects the Obama administration’s new rule on existing power plants will have on coal production in America.”

Congressman Byrne said that he has repeatedly warned about the impact the EPA’s rule would have on Alabama power production.

Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh (R) said in her own written statement, “It’s a sad day when Barack Obama and the federal government get to tell the people of Alabama how to handle our own energy production. The men and women who work at these facilities have families who depend on these jobs for their livelihood. These plants also help keep our utility bills low when electricity demand is high during very cold and very warm weather. Now, Obama and his liberal EPA are bringing uncertainty to the jobs and utility bills of our citizens.”

Republican U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions sent a joint letter to President Obama and EPA Director Gina McCarthy.  Sens. Shelby and Sessions wrote,

“Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping new regulations under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act in a purported effort to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from existing power plants.  While we appreciate the EPA’s willingness to hold public hearings on this proposal in four locations (Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Washington, DC; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) from July 29 through August 1, 2014, we are writing to urge the Administration to carefully consider the comments and concerns that were presented at the Atlanta public hearing by Alabamians from all parts of the user spectrum—workers, small business owners, elected officials, civic leaders, farmers, homemakers, and others.  Our constituents presented Administration officials with a wide range of legitimate concerns.  For example, officials heard compelling arguments explaining why the witnesses believe the EPA’s proposal is based on a flawed interpretation of Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  As the EPA’s proposal even acknowledges, the EPA has never used this provision of the Act in the manner now proposed—a reality that makes relevant the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent admonishment.  ‘When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate ‘a significant portion of the American economy… we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism.  We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance.’”

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Alabama Minority Leader Representative Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden said, “I want to commend Alabama Power for protecting thousands of jobs and looking out for their employees and their families.”

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The Speaker of the Alabama House of Representative Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn said, “Obama’s EPA is out of control. Newly announced regulations could kill coal jobs in the state and result in higher electricity prices for our citizens. These regulations are nothing but an attempt by the federal government to limit our state’s right to provide energy how we see fit, and the Alabama House is committed to doing everything possible to stop their implementation.”

PSC Commissioner Place One Jeremy H. Oden (R) said, “Following the announcement from Alabama Power regarding the effects of Federal mandates, it is alarming that compliance with these mandates will have such a severe impact on the generation fleet.  As I stated in my testimony earlier this week at the EPA hearing in Atlanta, these environmental mandates have a negative impact on reliability, fuel diversity and cost effective energy production in Alabama. We now see the effects of just one of these countless regulations aimed at the nation’s power production. Compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) by 2016 and other proposed mandates will have a devastating effect on our energy production, jobs and our economy.”

Senators Shelby and Sessions continued in their letter, “It cannot be seriously argued that the action proposed by the EPA has been expressly authorized by Congress.  Indeed, if brought to Congress for a vote now, the EPA’s proposal would certainly not be approved.  The Administration’s actions have already begun affecting Alabamians.  Just this morning, Alabama Power cited federal regulations as the impetus behind its decision to alter operations at seven operating units located within three power plants across the state.  As part of these transitions, two coal-fired units at the Green County Electric Generating Plant will be converted to gas-powered units, reducing electric generating capacity by a third and eliminating sixty jobs located in the heart of the Black Belt.  These job losses have serious consequences in a region which has faced declining populations, high unemployment rates, as well as a host of infrastructure challenges.”

Senators Shelby and Sessions continued, “The EPA’s proposal, if finalized, would impose enormous costs and burdens on Alabama workers and their families, and would hinder our global economic competitiveness.  The impact will be felt the deepest in states—like ours—where fossil fuels provide a significant share of our electricity generation.  The Administration’s claims that energy costs will not be impacted by this proposal ring hollow.  Simple economics suggest that the EPA’s plan will undoubtedly increase electricity prices, which will hinder—not help—economic growth.  Alabama has historically seen lower than average energy costs, in part because our state has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources that can be harnessed to power our homes and businesses and to make life better for our citizens.”

Rep. Byrne said, “While the long-term impact of Alabama Power’s decision remains to be seen, it is clear that President Obama’s ‘war on coal’ is already starting to impact Alabama families. I fear that this is just the start and that this rule will continue to harm our economy and kill good-paying jobs. I will keep pushing President Obama and his activist EPA to abandon this rule and join House Republicans in supporting an all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

Commissioner Oden said, “With approximately $3 billion invested over the past decade and another $1 billion of scheduled retrofits, the cost of compliance is staggering. With EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, the future costs and effects on electricity production are unknown. However, based on Alabama Power’s announcement today, compliance cost of further environmental mandates will be substantial and will directly impact Alabama’s energy production.  It is my intention to continue fighting against further damaging environmental mandates and to work alongside our public utility companies to measure the impact these rulings will have on our economy, affected employees, and the production of reliable, cost effective energy for Alabamians.”

Sens. Sessions and Shelby concluded, “Alabamians are also deeply troubled by the prospect that the EPA’s proposal will further erode the primary role of the states in managing electricity generation and determining the mix of energy sources that work best for them in their specific circumstances.  In Alabama, our electricity is generated from a range of sources—nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydropower and renewables.  Those decisions should not be dictated by EPA officials in Washington, D.C.  Perhaps ironically, the EPA’s chosen formula for establishing CO2 emission reduction targets disadvantages states with nuclear power, which is the nation’s most significant source of emission-free electric generation.  Moreover, Alabamians expressed to Agency officials their beliefs that the EPA gave activist environmental groups a special role in crafting this proposal.  In fact, in an article entitled ‘Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint,’ the New York Times recently reported  that the EPA’s Section 111(d) proposal is a ‘remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council’—an activist environmental organization with known anti-coal and anti-nuclear viewpoints.  The article explains that the EPA ‘used as its blueprint the work of’ this outside group.  Indeed, a review of recent NRDC proposals for regulating CO2 emissions from power plants closely resembles the proposal issued by EPA.  These are just a few examples of the myriad of concerns—legal, technical, environmental, and economic—that have been raised in recent weeks in response to the EPA’s proposal.  In light of the foregoing, we urge the Administration to listen closely to those who came from our great state to discuss the adverse consequences of these recent policies and proposals on their families, their jobs, and their communities.”

Even though the EPA held hearings on the controversial new rules, most observers believe that was only a legal formality for an Obama presidency that, like in the immigration debate, appears blindly determined to bull their extremist agenda into reality, even if they have to do it without cooperation from the Congress or the support of the American people.

Meanwhile Alabamians can expect more job losses and higher electricity bills in the near future.

 

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