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August 2015

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On Energy, the Supreme Court Gets it Right

The U.S. Supreme Court sounded a victory for our nation's energy future on June 29 by striking down a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that would have closed more coal-fired power plants, threatening the electrical grid and forcing thousands more middle-class workers out onto the street.

The case looked at the EPA's proposed regulation of mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act. In a 5-4 decision, the court said that the agency failed to properly game out the implementation of the rule. The EPA was looking to get a little more than $5 million in health care cost savings — but it would have cost $9┬ábillion a year to get it, since about 150 plants would have to install costly scrubbers and invest in the operations and maintenance of prohibitively expensive new equipment. (See related story in this issue.)

That's like going to withdraw $20 at an ATM, only to find that your bank is going to charge you thousands for the transaction. It defies logic, and the court realized that.

When the EPA issued the rule in 2011, it targeted about 600 plants employing tens of thousands of workers. Since then, about 75 percent of those plants have been shuttered. The remaining 25 percent were granted a year-long reprieve in 2014 because they are so critical to power flow on the grid, especially during peak usage periods in the summer and during unpredictable and dangerous winter storms like last year's polar vortex.

The court's decision means that these plants will have at least another year of life in them. That's huge — especially considering the aging workforce at these facilities. An extra year of work gives a little security to baby boomers who are saving and investing for their golden years.

Obviously, we all want clean water and a healthy environment. But the EPA is trying to determine our energy policy with blinders on. And they don't have the track record we do.

We warned the agency in 2011 that shutting down a slew of coal plants would starve the grid of 69,000 megawatts of power. Had it happened, cities would certainly have endured blackouts during extreme weather emergencies. At the time, the EPA balked at our figures. Now, they admit the truth. We were right.

Fortunately, when the IBEW talks, the White House and Congress listen. This is vital since the Obama administration's other big push, the so-called Clean Power Plan, is being worked out. Like the mercury rule, the plan could send energy prices skyrocketing while idling thousands of workers and costing states billions to implement. IBEW leaders have been working with officials on the details of the deal, and standing up for both the industry and our members at the negotiating table.

While well-intentioned, the EPA doesn't employ people who are experts in energy — we do. So the IBEW will continue our efforts with lawmakers, ensuring that America's energy needs are met while continuing to provide good wages and benefits for the professionals who keep the lights on.

That's plain old common sense. And that's the right path for our 21st century energy future.


Also: Health Care Challenges Read Chilia's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President