by Jonathan Weaver
Proposed federal power plant regulations are not getting any support from elected officials in Armstrong County.
During their work session last week and through acknowledgment yesterday during their public meeting, Armstrong County commissioners called on the Environmental Protection Agency to either withdraw the proposed ‘Clean Power Plan’ or revise it so not to have such an impact on local jobs and retirement benefits.
According to the resolution, that plan would eliminate more than 52,000 coal, utility and railroad jobs across the United States in the next six years and endanger retirement security for families.
Commissioner Richard Fink – a former coal worker – led the charge.
“These particular proposals if enacted will totally destroy the economy of Appalachia and the coal fields here in Pennsylvania,” Fink said.
Fink worked as a coal miner from 1978-1999 – 21 years – for the Keystone Coal Mining Corporation – a subsidiary of then-R&P Coal, Co. before it was sold to Consolidated Coal. He worked as a certified electrician, mine safety examiner and has been Local Union #2283 President since 1980.
“I love the industry – I loved working there – and for this to happen can not only devastate the industry and a lot of good jobs here in Armstrong County, but it actually scares me what could happen to some of our seniors who depend on those pensions and healthcare,” Fink said. “They’ve worked a lot of years in the industry, and these regulations shouldn’t take that away from them.”
Fink said he supported alternative energy, but the energy plan instead needs to focus on figuring out how to burn coal cleaner to meet the regulations.
Public meetings were held after the plan was proposed in June – which touted climate and health benefits while reducing pollution – in such places as Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia, and those affected spoke up.
“I was pleased to see industry workers turn out in mass because of what’s facing the future in our communities – it will be devastating,” Fink said. “If these regulations pass, it will devastate us here in Armstrong County.”
More than a dozen mines are utilized by Kittanning-based Rosebud Mining within Armstrong and Indiana counties.
He urged community residents to send comments against the proposed rule through the mail or electronically because “every one counts.”
Commissioner Bob Bower praised Fink’s good-hearted stance on the issue.
“I’ve heard a lot of resolutions being read through the years of being in county government, and this particular resolution read by Commissioner Fink was read with more compassion and feeling than I’ve heard in a long while,” Bower said.
Commissioner Chair David Battaglia said that jobs are only one reason commissioners fully supported the resolution.
“They’re one of the cleanest sources of energy out there, and for the EPA to have a stated goal, they have to have a stated reason. And I’m not convinced that the greenhouse gas emissions supposedly contribute to climate change and global warming are what people say they are,” Battaglia said. “We’re supporting this not only because of the jobs, but there’s way to say this will do anything or that (coal-firing plants) are even the cause of the emissions.”
Commissioners in Indiana County were preparing to adopt the same resolution.
The resolution was requested through the local United Mine Workers union and will be forwarded to federal elected officials – including U.S. President Barack Obama.
A resolution to a similar cause was adopted by commissioners in July supporting the lead role of states in the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions.
That resolution said the regulations could lead to the shutdown of multiple power plants, and therefore risks harming the well-being of local residents.
“The EPA’s existing regulations provide that states may adopt less stringent emission standards or longer compliance schedules than the EPA guidelines,” Fink said in July, “based on factors such as unreasonable cost of control, physical impossibility of installing the necessary control equipment or other factors that make less stringent standards or longer compliance times more reasonable.”
The ‘Clean Power Plan’ would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (who represents from Erie through all of Armstrong County and has an office in Kittanning) has also criticized the proposed regulations and invited President Obama to accompany him on a tour of a coal mine in Western Pennsylvania during a press conference earlier this month.
In response to the plan’s announcement last month, Rep. Kelly and Sen. McConnell introduced the Coal Country Protection Act in the House and Senate respectively.
“I want him to get off the back nine and into the mines. I want him to get
his golf cap off and get his hard hat on. I want him to walk the streets.
I want him to look into the faces of moms and dads that rely everyday on
this precious product and tell them that they’ve got to quit clinging to
their Bible and their guns.”
“It is a different day. This is coal’s day in court. This is our chance to
stand up and say what we believe in – what we know is right and what we
know is true. And we know what is truly American about this: The workhorse of this nation’s economy has always been coal.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration – an independent statistical organization – Pennsylvania was the fourth largest coal-producing state in the nation in 2012 – producing nearly 1,100 trillion BTU of energy.
West Virginia U.S. Senate incumbent republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito and democratic challenger Natalie Tennant have also pledged during their campaigns to fight back against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan proposal.