June 5, 2014

SPRINGFIELD (June 5)—Illinois General Assembly House members have passed a resolution urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fine-tune its guidelines on carbon emissions so that most of the state’s electrical generating stations can continue to burn coal as their primary fuel.

H.R. 782, introduced by State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) at the request of SMART-Transportation Division, calls on the EPA to withhold blanket condemnation of coal-fired power plants in favor of a case-by-case analysis of each plant’s potential for reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.

“Rep. Phelps is a friend, and he did a wonderful job in maneuvering HR 782 through the political process,” said SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “He deserves a hearty thank-you from all our members.”

Guy said the focus of the resolution is job security.

“This resolution could help make sure that people who work in these power plants and the railroad employees who transport coal do not lose their jobs because of a plant shutdown that may not even be necessary,” he said.

Passage of the Resolution last Friday came prior to Monday’s announcement by the USEPA that it would seek to tighten restrictions on coal-buring power plants in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The new rule would mandate the nation’s coal-fired power plants to cut their CO₂ emissions 30% by 2030. Scientists say about 30% of the CO₂ emissions in the U.S. come from coal-fired power plants.

But the SMART-TD coalition pointed out that doesn’t mean shutting down coal-fired power plants is the only option. The Resolution noted that Environmental Protection Act allows states to take other factors into consideration when deciding whether to close a power plant, including its remaining years of useful life and its eligibility for retrofitting with emissions-reducing technology.

“We do not want to be closing power plants indiscriminately just because they burn coal,” Guy said. “The Resolution urges the EPA to allow Illinois and other states the flexibility to implement carbon- dioxide performance standards for fossil-fueled power plants within their jurisdiction.

“We want to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by ruthlessly eliminating power plants, thus eliminating jobs and hurting local economies.”

HR 782 also urges the EPA to issue guidelines and approve state-established performance standards based on reductions of emissions already achieved at existing plant. It called onthe EPA to allow Illinois and other states to set less stringent performance standards OR longer compliance schedules, but not both.

Guy said the Resolution represents the work product of a broad coalition of business, industry and labor interests.

“This was our initiative, but we designed it as a business-labor coalition,” Guy said. “It includes the electrical-generation industry, the railroad industry, the mining industry plus the AFL-CIO, IBEW, UMW, the UA and other rail labor unions.

“All of these players have businesses and jobs at stake, and none of us wants these plants to shut down or these coal trains to stop running unless there is absolutely no other way to control emissions.”

Guy said the union supports efforts to clean up coal emissions.

“We are supportive of these environmental goals,” he said. “Our children and our grandchildren deserve to breathe cleaner air. We just want to be sure that coal-fired generating plants are closed only after all technological possibilities for controlling their emissions have been exhausted.”

Guy said currently available technologies have a good record for reducing emissions.

“The newest and most modern plants do a very good job of controlling their emissions, and the technologies they use can be retrofitted on many older plants,” Guy said. “We want the power plants in Illinois to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis so that every plant capable of improving can stay open.”