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Elizabeth Township lawmaker blames EPA for loss of jobs

The Mitchell power plant along the Monongahela River, south of Elrama, in this 2009 photo provided by FirstEnergy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 4:41 a.m.
 

An area lawmaker says the Environmental Protection Agency's policies are to blame for the loss of “70 good-paying union jobs” at two coal-fired power plants in the region.

“Our nation's activist EPA has once again hurt our workers and our local economy,” state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, said on Tuesday.

FirstEnergy announced that it will deactivate Mitchell station in Courtney, near Elrama — which is in Saccone's 39th District — and Hatfield's Ferry station in Masontown, Fayette County, by Oct. 9.

“I have met many of those employees,” Saccone said. “I know firsthand of their devotion.”

A total of 380 jobs are affected, according to a statement from FirstEnergy's Akron, Ohio, offices.

The plants generate 2,080 megawatts, or 10 percent, of the utility's capacity, but require 30 percent of the $925 million FirstEnergy needs to meet EPA standards for mercury and air toxics.

An EPA spokesman declined comment. An industry spokesman said there have been nine such rulemakings since 2008.

“It is not just the rulemakings in a vacuum,” said Jacob G. Smeltz, president of the Electric Power Generation Association in Harrisburg. “You have a depression in demand due to a stagnating economy.”

Smeltz said costs are at historic lows because of the abundance and price of natural gas.

“Companies have to look at the economics and they have to make tough choices and that is what I think has happened here,” Smeltz said.

Saccone and others characterized the closings as another volley in what has been called the Obama administraiion's a “war on coal.”

“With the shutdown of the Mitchell plant and Hatfield's Ferry, which just four short years ago underwent $1 billion in upgrades, the president is making good on his promise to bankrupt anyone who operates a coal plant,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, whose 18th District includes the Mitchell plant.

“The federal government is costing real people real jobs by pushing ahead with theoretical power-plant standards,” said state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, whose 46th District includes both plants. “Forcing the closure of reliable power plants will drive up the price of electricity for consumers and do little to improve the environment.”

“I understand the economics,” said state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene County, whose 50th District includes Masontown. “What I question are the regulatory policies that fail to atone for the damaging effects it has on the economic survival of regions that have given their life's blood to power the nation.”

Masontown is in the Ninth District of McKeesport native and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair County, who said the EPA is “essentially legislating coal workers out of jobs.”

John Rizzo, spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said Casey “fought to protect coal because it is a reliable, lower-priced energy source and critical for jobs, (and) consistently pushed the administration to revise regulations.”

“Despite all the rhetoric about clean coal, it doesn't exist,” said Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.

“Closing down coal plants can do many things,” Hoffman said. “Make our air more healthy, reduce water pollution, reduce the production of climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

Smeltz said state regulations are an issue for the regional transmission organization PJM, which coordinates movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states, including Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

He said that by 2026 nine states will require the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to generate 46,000 megawatts of power.

That's equal to what now is generated in Pennsylvania, second only to Texas in the production of electricity.

Thirty-eight of those laid off could get “great clean jobs” in the wind industry “if wind and solar got the same subsidies that the oil industry gets now,” Hoffman said. “Germany now gets half its power from solar and wind and their economy is not struggling.”

FirstEnergy said eligible employees will get severance benefits through the utility or their union contract.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

 

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