We union members oppose new anticarbon rules that will cost jobs and endanger the grid.
By EDWIN D. HILL
Aug. 14, 2014 7:09 p.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Late last month more than 1,600 witnesses testified at hearings held by the Environmental Protection Agency on its Clean Power Plan, which will impose drastic, 30% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030, with most of the cuts taking place by 2020. The EPA's proposal has attracted such a large response for a very good reason. The plan would have a dramatic impact on the American economy but only a minimal effect on global carbon emissions.
The EPA's plan, according to its own estimates, will require closing coal-fired power plants over the next five years that generate between 41 and 49 gigawatts (49,000 megawatts) of electricity. That's approximately enough capacity to power the state of Georgia at any given time. Unless that capacity is replaced, the nationwide equivalent of the Peach State would go dark.
When gauged by accepted industry metrics, the agency's plans also would result in the loss of some 52,000 permanent direct jobs in utilities, mining and rail and at least another 100,000 jobs in related industries. High-skill, middle-class jobs would be lost, falling heavily in rural communities that have few comparable employment opportunities.
The U.S. is already facing the loss of 60 gigawatts of power over the next three years, the result of older coal plants' being forced to shut down because they cannot comply with the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards enacted in 2012. At the time, the EPA claimed that only four gigawatts of capacity would be lost. Those of us familiar with the industry knew better, and the agency now does not contest that 60 gigawatts of coal-generated electricity will be lost. Ninety percent of the plants slated to close due to the MATS rule were needed to provide power during the polar vortex and other periods of severe weather last winter. Is the EPA willing to gamble that we won't have another harsh winter in the next five years?
The U.S. cannot lose more than 100 gigawatts of power in five years without severely compromising the reliability and safety of the electrical grid. That would pose a danger for the entire economy and all Americans.
Replacing the electricity lost as coal plants are closed will require building or retrofitting facilities powered by other sources, the costs of which will be borne by consumers. Natural gas is the only energy source that could conceivably meet the expected demand over the next five years.
But the market for natural gas is volatile, even with the current abundance resulting from new discoveries. Prices could spike, saddling residential and commercial customers with higher electric bills. Renewables such as solar and wind can't take up the slack. Most industry experts agree that solar and wind technologies will not be capable of producing the required gigawatts for at least 20 years.
There is a better way. The EPA could, for example, provide states with credit for prior reductions in carbon emissions dating back to 2005 instead of setting the baseline for further action at 2012 levels. This would acknowledge the progress that has already been made and build from that.
More important, the agency could develop a more realistic timetable, softening the economic impact of its rules. Delaying the 2020 deadline for the carbon cuts to be in place by several years would allow the industry to test and install new technology enabling some plants to remain in service and still meet emission targets.
The EPA's Clean Power Plan is a classic example of federal tunnel vision—focusing on a single goal with little heed for the costs and dangers. The Obama administration and Congress need to put aside partisan bickering and develop a plan for the nation's energy future that utilizes all of America's abundant sources of power, encourages the development of renewable energy on a large scale and replaces the inevitable lost jobs with new opportunities for a trained, skilled workforce.
Mr. Hill is president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) representing 750,000 members in utilities, construction, railroads, manufacturing, broadcasting, telecommunications and government.