Public Service Commission contest becomes fight over coal - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Public Service Commission contest becomes fight over coal

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Tuesday’s runoff contest for PSC has become a debate over which candidate better oppose Obama Administration policies on coal fired power plants. (Source: MGN) Tuesday’s runoff contest for PSC has become a debate over which candidate better oppose Obama Administration policies on coal fired power plants. (Source: MGN)
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Tuesday’s runoff contest for Alabama Public Service Commission has become a debate over which candidate better opposes Obama Administration policies on coal fired power plants.

Environmental Protection Agency regulations mandating reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to battle global warming have brought out sharp opposition from industry representatives as well as state officials. “Higher electricity prices and decreased generation,” were the summary of the policy’s effects Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange delivered to the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety last month. “The state of Alabama vigorously opposes the EPAs proposed mandate. It would have disastrous consequences for electric reliability and the economy.”

“Any time (customers) go to flip on a light switch, they’re going to be paying more,” said Tiffany Bittner with the coal industry advocacy group Coal Jobs Count. “And so in order to keep that cost low, we have to keep a person in the PSC who is going to be a person who understands this process.”

Coal industry representatives have highlighted opposition to the EPA’s policies and Candidate Chip Beeker promised to resist those policies in campaign ads in which he declared “I’ll fight for you so Barack Obama can’t do to our utility rates what he did to our health insurance rates.”

Coal Jobs Count endorsed Beeker over incumbent PSC member Terry Dunn, accusing Dunn of going along with the Obama Administration, a charge Dunn denied, insisting he has lobbied to the federal government against its anti-coal policies, “Telling the EPA that ‘If you do this, it’s going to hurt the economy,’” he said. “We’re coming out of the worst recession in 80 years, why would you do anything like that to keep us from pulling out.”

Bittner said the effect of full implementation of the EPA’s proposed policies on the state would be devastating. “You’re looking at some 16,000 jobs that could be cut as a result of the EPA regulations if they come to fruition,” she said. “And what we’re saying is these jobs are not only those of folks who are in the mining industry, miners who work in surface mining or underground mining, but the other folks that assist in the mining industries, the folks that drive the trucks, the barge workers that go up and down the Tombigbee River.”

Dunn said he has attracted the wrath of the coal industry, not because of policies from Washington, but because he has questioned the size of utility profits, and because in the face of EPA regulations, he has advocated for the interests of ratepayers, who could see more affordable energy with a greater mix of natural gas rather than coal.

As for the ability of state regulators like the PSC to stop federal regulations he concedes would be harmful, Dunn said they can effectively do "not a thing. All we can do is file comments stating that just what'll happen. It'll hurt our economy in Alabama and that's as far as we can go. And that's it. That's something our congressman will have to fight."

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