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Alabama PSC commissioners signed letter written by coal lobbying group, sent them to federal agency

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Public Service commissioners Chip Beeker and Jeremy Oden both signed their names to letters they did not write and sent them to a federal agency on behalf of a coal lobbying firm. 

The body of Beeker’s Sept. 6 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was virtually identical to letters written by utility commissioners in other states, and was penned by American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which lobbies for the coal industry and represents coal-burning utilities. 

Emails to several utility regulators, obtained through public records requests by the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group that advocates for clean energy, show that ACCCE consultant Jon McCkinney asked commissioners to send those letters and gave out a sample letter for them to use. 

Oden’s letter was sent to FERC on Sept. 4, and just like Beeker’s letter, Oden did not personalize the “I am/We are” header portion in the body of the sample letter before sending them to the FERC. 

Attempts to reach Beeker and Oden on Tuesday were unsuccessful. 

The letters, sent to FERC by utility commissioners in six states, urges the federal government to act on a pending decision that could impact the coal and nuclear power companies. 

“It’s no secret that coal mining companies want a federal bailout for money-losing coal plants,” said Joe Smyth, research and communications manager at Energy and Policy Institute, in an email to APR on Tuesday. But it’s troubling that public service commissioners would sign their names to the coal industry’s letters. A coal plant bailout is unnecessary and would increase costs for electricity consumers.”

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Daniel Tait, chief operations officer for Energy Alabama, a nonprofit clean energy advocacy group, told APR on Tuesday that he was disappointed to learn that state utility commissioners had sent the letters. 

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“It’s extremely disheartening to see our regulators passing along form letters from special interest groups as their own,” Tait wrote to APR. “Energy Alabama is involved in pending cases before the Commission and now more than ever, we need impartial regulators. We hope that can still take place.”

The trend of closing of coal fired plants has continued across the country for a decade. Experts say the plants are too costly to run when compared to natural gas and other renewable forms of energy, according to E&E News

In 2015, the United States closed 15 gigawatts of coal capacity, according to E&E News, and almost 14 GW of coal was retired in 2018. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that almost 8 GW of coal would retire this year. 

Commissioners who signed and sent the letters, in addition to Beeker and Oden, were Montana Public Service Commission chair Brad Johnson, Wyoming Public Service Commission chair Kara Fornstrom, West Virginia Public Service Commissioner Charlotte Lane, Tennessee Public Utilities Commissioner and vice chair Kenneth Hill and Kentucky Public Service Commission chair Michael Schmitt

 

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