Energy secretary, Mich. unions discuss emissions plan

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz made an unannounced trip to Dearborn Thursday to meet with labor unions in a bid to boost employment under the White House power plant greenhouse gas reduction plan announced earlier this week.

Some unions had raised concerns about the regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

After the event — which was closed to the press — the government announced the “DOE-Labor Working Group that will help unions maximize job creation as states develop their compliance plans under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan announced earlier this week.”

The partnership will begin with the Utility Workers Union of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Steelworkers.

“The partnership will provide DOE’s technical expertise and assistance to these unions and others that wish to participate on how different energy technologies and policies can best preserve and create jobs in the energy sector. Many of the options available to states in designing their state implementation plans are major job creators for America’s workers such as retrofitting coal plants to capture carbon, installing combined heat and power units in manufacturing plants, updating energy infrastructure, or installing renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment,” the Energy Department said.

Under the rules announced this week, states must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — more than announced previously — but they get two additional years to comply. The White House said this week the plan would “create tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid reliability” while critics say it will raise the costs of electricity and force the closure of additional coal fired powered plants.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. St Joseph, and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said the plan would cost jobs.

“It’s lights out for jobs and the economy. The administration has defined itself by its unilateral regulatory overreach — this plan goes well beyond the authority Congress granted to EPA and will be challenged in the courts. This relentless assault on affordable, abundant energy will deliver an economic blow when we can least afford it,” said Upton and Whitfield. “Higher electricity rates and threats to grid reliability are real concerns — and sadly it is our most vulnerable citizens in Michigan, Kentucky, and all across the country who will pay the heaviest price. Jobs and the economy remain our priority, and we will continue standing up for American workers and affordable energy.”

Michigan hasn’t said if it plans to comply or will challenge this regulation in court — as it has with other regulations.

The unions praised the effort led by Moniz.

“The flexible nature of the Clean Power Plan means that states have many options to cut their pollution, help ensure reliability, and keep America’s workers on the job building our energy future,” said Moniz. “This partnership will enable the Energy Department and our labor unions to work with the states on designing plans that maximize job creation.”

The IBEW noted earlier this week as the largest union of electrical workers in the nation “we expressed concerns over the initial draft of the proposed EPA carbon emission regulations that in our opinion substituted wishful thinking for reality, threatening grid reliability and good jobs, while having a minimal impact on global carbon emissions. We feel those concerns are still valid. However, we are pleased that the EPA took into account many of our criticisms, voiced at hearings held around the country last summer.”

The union noted states gets more time, get credit for zero-carbon nuclear power in meeting carbon reduction targets and have “a reliability ‘safety valve’ that protects any existing coal facilities from closure shown to be critical to grid reliability.”

After the meeting IBEW said it wanted to work with the government.

“The IBEW is pleased to work with DOE to educate the states on what is possible to be able to meet the clean power plan goals while assuring reliability and our members’ jobs,” said Jim Hunter, director, Utility Department, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“It’s good to know the administration has taken our concerns about the effects of the Clean Power Plan on good union jobs seriously. We appreciate the efforts of Secretary Moniz to champion our issues. Working together with the DOE to preserve middle class jobs and protect grid reliability will help ensure our communities are safe, secure and sustainable,” said D. Michael Langford, president, Utility Workers Union of America.

The DOE-Labor Working Group will continue the work of the Energy Department’s Jobs Strategy Council, an initiative announced in January.

“In the upcoming year, the USW will work hard to help design well-balanced state implementation plans that maintain and create family-sustaining jobs in the energy and manufacturing sectors,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard. “We are pleased to partner with the Department of Energy and others in labor to highlight technologies that will ensure sustainability not only for our environment, but for workers and communities as well.”

DShepardson@detroitnews.com