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Pittsburgh rally to address FirstEnergy plant deactivation plans

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 2:41 a.m.

A rally on Friday in Pittsburgh will address FirstEnergy's decision to deactivate coal-fired power plants in Union Township and Masontown.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, will join workers, tradesmen, coal miners and utility workers for the 1 p.m. event at the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers hall along Banksville Road.

The rally comes on the heels of FirstEnergy's decision that will displace 380 workers at the Mitchell plant in Courtney, just south of Jefferson Hills, and at Hatfield's Ferry in Masontown.

It is the third round of coal-fired power plant closings in the past 18 months for FirstEnergy, Ohio-based parent company of West Penn Power.

“I am deeply concerned about their loss of jobs,” said Murphy, whose 18th District includes the Courtney plant.

Murphy and other lawmakers blame new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. As chairman of the House Energy Oversight Committee, he is investigating those regulations.

“Measures by President Obama without any congressional review or oversight are a serious problem,” Murphy said.

Murphy joined other Pennsylvania Republican congressmen in signing a letter sent by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Allentown, to the White House, urging reversal of EPA plans to issue greenhouse gas regulations for new electricity generating units. The letter cited Pennsylvania's status as the fourth-largest coal producer and the “nearly 50,000 direct and indirect jobs” it produces.

“The EPA has estimated that adopting this rule would increase the cost of electricity from coal-fired power plants by as much as 80 percent,” Toomey wrote. “Such a cost increase would make coal-fired plants uneconomical, leading some to close and very likely stop the construction of new plants.”

Electric Power Generation Association president Jacob G. Smeltz said the EPA rules are not the only problem, citing “a depression in demand due to a stagnating economy” as well as the abundance and price of natural gas.

Murphy said the closures will have a ripple effect that will include electric bills.

The FirstEnergy decision drew positive comments from environmental activists, such as Tiffany Hickman, western regional coordinator for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture.

“There is little doubt that the Hatfield's Ferry and Mitchell power stations are contributors of harmful pollution in southwest Pennsylvania, and nearby residents will breathe easier after the closures,” Hickman posted on a PennFuture blog.

Others involved in the rally include the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, headed by former state Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon Township, as well as the United Mine Workers, Pittsburgh Building Trades, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Laborers International Union of North America.

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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