Pa. congressman decries EPA rules that are shutting coal plants

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had published in the Sept. 15 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette an opinion piece called “Pennsylvania is Coal Country.”

“This fall, 380 workers at the Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell Power Stations in southwestern Pennsylvania will lose their jobs when the two coal-fueled plants are permanently shut down,” Murphy wrote about recently-announced plans from FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE). “FirstEnergy, after just having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental upgrades to the facilities, announced the decision was based in part on ‘the cost of compliance with current and future environmental regulations.’”

Since most of these new regulations weren’t actually adopted by Congress, Murphy addressed the issue of how this happened. “The author of these regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency, is mired in the outdated view that virtually any use of fossil energy in power generation poses an imminent threat to public health,” Murphy wrote. “Not true. What has been lost in today’s energy debate is the incredible technological advancements that have led to cleaner air and water.

Those opposed to fossil energy still present the false narrative of ‘dirty coal,’ which is an insult to the thousands of southwestern Pennsylvanians who work in the mines and throughout the coal industry supply chain.”

From an Aug. 6 editorial in the Post-Gazette titled “Coal Barons: GOP Lawmakers Try to Turn Back the Hands of Time,” one would think Pittsburgh workers are still changing their dress shirts at mid-day because of soot in the air, when, in fact, over the last 50 years, Pittsburgh has rebuilt and redefined itself largely by environmental reform and progress, Murphy said.

He used U.S. Steel as an example, which recently refurbished part of its massive Clairton Coke Works in the Pittsburgh area, which bakes coal into coke for the steelmaking process. “The company, which relies on affordable Pennsylvania coal, just spent $500 million making the Clairton Coke Works one the most environmentally safe facilities in the world,” Murphy wrote. “The plant even recycles gases to generate power needed for its Mon Valley mills. Innovative conservation projects of this kind have cut energy waste by close to 30 percent nationwide since 2000.”

Pittsburgh-based Calgon Carbon has developed powdered activated carbon to help to cut the amount of mercury from smokestacks, Murphy noted. “Today, most trace mercury found in the air in Western Pennsylvania isn’t even from domestic sources; it’s from countries without any regulation, such as China,” he added.

Three-quarters of the country’s coal plants are now equipped with technologies developed by the Department of Energy’s National Technology Energy Laboratory, a federal research facility located in South Park, Pa. “NETL perfected scrubbers, such as those installed by local boilermakers at Hatfield’s Ferry just three years ago, to remove from the air sulfur dioxide gases that can cause acid rain,” said Murphy. “NETL’s ground-breaking achievements helped to reduce emissions by 75 percent even as coal usage tripled over the last 30 years.”

Murphy said he has authored legislation, adopted on a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, to halt the EPA’s newest “social cost of carbon” regulation so Congress has an opportunity to review it. “A regulation of this magnitude – with such sweeping impact on the economy and the American workforce – cannot be left to regulators alone, because as blue-collar moms and dads in southwestern Pennsylvania know well, the true impact of overregulation is concentrated unemployment and poverty,” he said.

FirstEnergy’s Allegheny Energy Supply owns the Hatfield’s Ferry station, which consists of three coal-fired units with a rated net demonstrated capacity of 570 MW each. Hatfield’s Ferry is located in Masontown, Pa. Allegheny Energy Supply also owns the Mitchell station, which consists of one oil-fired unit with a rated net demonstrated capacity of 82 MW and one coal-fired unit with a rated net demonstrated capacity of 288 MW. Mitchell is located in Courtney, Pa.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.