Several thousand unionized coal miners, electrical workers and others filled Pittsburgh’s downtown on Thursday to protest the Obama administration’s proposed rule to curb carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants, ahead of two days of hearings on the issue in the city.
But in an indication of how the issue has divided the labor movement, several major unions were absent from the protest. Some of those have backed the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades, while others have not yet taken a clear position on the matter.
The United Mine Workers of America and other unions who organized the rally argue that the EPA rule to lower carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 based on 2005 levels would boost electricity prices and cost more than 65,000 jobs mostly across Appalachia, while doing little to address climate change globally.
“It’s going to be devastating if it goes through in its current form,” Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA, said in an interview before the protest.
More than a hundred representatives from the coal and utility industries, labor unions, environmental groups and others are scheduled to present their views during two days of agency hearings in Pittsburgh, beginning Thursday.
Environmental groups have applauded the rule and said it would also provide health benefits to communities downwind of power plants. Utility companies are already shifting away from burning coal because of the natural gas boom and other environmental regulations.
The EPA is holding similar hearings in Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C. this week. But unions focused their efforts on Pittsburgh, sending busloads of unionized miners, utility workers, railroad workers and others from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama and other states.
Unions opposing the proposed rule argue that U.S. workers will pay the price for lowering emissions domestically while other countries–most notably China, where coal usage has grown rapidly–will continue to burn coal and emit carbon dioxide.
In 2011, China emitted 8,715 million metric tons of CO2, compared with 5,498 million metric tons emitted by the U.S. that year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. China has said it plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 40% between 2005 and 2020, according to the EIA.
The emissions rule is also a concern for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents 225,000 workers in the utility industry, roughly a third of its 725,000 members. The union also argues that the rule would put the electric grid at risk by making it tough for utilities to ensure enough power generation during peak demand.
“The EPA rules on carbon emissions take us way too far too fast,” said Jim Spellane, a spokesman for the IBEW.
Other unions with a big presence at the rally included International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which also represents workers at utilities, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, whose members operate trains that haul coal. Nearly one in five railroad jobs is linked to hauling coal, according to the railroad workers union.
Many miners said they believed the rule would affect their communities. “Our jobs are at risk,” said Jason Pethtel, 48 years old, of Moundsville, W.Va., who works for an underground mine that supplies coal to nearby power plants along the Ohio River. He arrived by bus with his wife and father Lonnie, 70, who worked as a miner for 34 years.
But like other issues where jobs and the environment collide, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, this one has divided the labor movement. Several major unions including the United Steelworkers, whose headquarters is in downtown Pittsburgh, didn’t make an appearance at the protest.
“We are not involved in the rally,” said Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the steelworkers union.
Leo Gerard, head of the steelworkers union, and the leaders of the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America said they backed the EPA’s proposed carbon rule when it was announced in June.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a former coal miner who once led the UMWA, also didn’t appear at the protest. A federation spokesman said Mr. Trumka was in Washington for the organization’s semiannual executive council meeting.
Mr. Trumka has called the rule historic but said steps should be taken so that affected workers have other opportunities.
Phil Smith, a spokesman for the mine workers union, said the UMWA was getting support from the AFL-CIO and other unions. He noted there weren’t any counter protests by other unions.
“At the end of the day, this is a direct challenge to our membership and it’s up to us to deal with it,” he said.
See article here.
- On July 31, 2014