Five Unions Refuse to Stand With Miners Against Job-Killing EPA Rule

By Zoey DiMauro | June 10, 2014 | 10:16am EDT

Railcars full of coal that will be used to generate electricity. (AP photo)

( -- Officials of three labor unions are standing with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in opposition to a proposed new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant rule that UMWA says will cost hundreds of thousands of union workers their jobs.

But five other unions contacted by either did not respond or refused to comment when asked whether they shared UMWA’s concerns.

“The proposed rule...will lead to long-term and irreversible job losses for thousands of coal miners, electrical workers, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others without achieving any significant reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” UMWA president Cecil E. Roberts said in a June 2 statement.

The new rule could ultimately cause the loss of 485,000 permanent union jobs and put “hundreds of thousands more - mostly senior citizens living on already-low fixed incomes - squarely in the crosshairs,” he stated, without any corresponding benefit for the environment.

.“Global emissions will actually rise as more industrial jobs are moved out of the United States to countries which do not and will not have any kind of emissions rules,” Roberts continued.

“Why on earth should we be willing to sacrifice the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens on the naive bet that economic competitors like China, India, Brazil, Russia and others will follow our lead?”

“The UMWA has not and does not dispute the science regarding climate change,” he added. “Our dispute is with how our government is going about addressing it, and on whom the administration is placing the greatest burden in dealing with this challenge.”

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) also expressed dissatisfaction with the direction the Obama administration is taking, especially since UMWA maintains that the proposed rule will do “nothing to address climate change” and that the jobs lost will be “among the best paying blue-collar jobs in America.”

Under the proposed rule, which aims to cut 30 percent of carbon emissions from the power sector by 2030, states must submit plans by June 30, 2016 explaining how they will cut emissions. EPA recommendations include “cofiring or switching to natural gas, retirements of plants, expanding renewables like wind and solar and expanding nuclear,” all of which move away from coal.

A more effective strategy to reduce carbon emissions, says IBB president Newton B. Jones, lies in the development of affordable carbon capture and storage technology, rather than what he called the “enormous devastation” the proposed rule will cause.

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil E. Roberts (UMWA)

“We can still forge a path towards a world energy mix that includes ‘efficient’ renewable energy systems,” Jones said in a statement, “not just the mega-expensive feel-good ones we have been subsidizing with taxpayer resources.”

Noting that “European nations that have shut down much of their coal-fired generation capacity and subsidized a wave of renewable systems are now facing energy shortages,” Jones added that “the administration’s current energy policy is taking us down a similar path.”

Other union leaders said they fear that maintaining a dependable supply of electricity will be difficult once the new rule is in force. IBEW notes that 56 gigawatts currently generated by coal-fired power plants will be lost by 2016.

Calling the EPA rule a “sea change in national energy policy,” the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) also said that it threatens the reliability of the nation’s electrical grid.

“As last winter’s polar vortex proved, the only way to ensure there is enough reliable power to fuel the nation is cost-effective, environmentally efficient and much needed coal-fired facilities to play a key role in keeping the lights on,” the union warned in a June 2 press release.

“Approximately 90 percent of the plants scheduled to close were required to run during last winter’s polar vortex to prevent grid disruption,” the IBEW agreed.  “It will do our nation little achieve [cleaner air] at the expense of a balanced energy portfolio capable of meeting the demands of modern society."

IBEW officials say they recognize that coal-fired plants may become less competitive as the energy market changes.  “But how many are gonna be shut down prematurely and are not going be able to be there when the country needs them for energy?” asked Jim Spellane, IBEW’s media advisor.

But when asked five other unions whether they stood with the miners against the loss of union jobs and power-generating capacity, they either did not respond or refused to comment.

“Thanks for reaching out, but we don’t have a comment,” the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) told The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen refused to comment as well.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union - which are part of the same AFL-CIO trade federation as UMWA – also did not respond to’s inquiries.

However, LIUNA officials have been outspoken about their support for building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would create an estimated 42,000 jobs, many of them unionized, according to the State Department.

In a Google hangout on May 21, the legislative director of LIUNA, David Mallino, said that “for many of our members this isn't just a pipeline but it’s actually a lifeline to be able to sustain their middle-class lives.”

The IBEW’s Spellane also spoke favorably about Keystone: “Opponents say this is just one more thing to increase reliance on fossil fuels, but that’s not gonna go away even if you don't build the pipeline, which is potentially worse for the environment.”


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