Sherrod Brown’s Coal Assault

Ohio Dem Senator voted for anti-coal regulation despite acknowledging jobs impact

July 12, 2012

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) voted for a job-killing federal environmental regulation that will cause coal-fired power plants to shut down in the state of Ohio, despite previously acknowledging the negative economic consequences the regulation would have on his home state.

Brown voted June 20 against legislation that would repeal the Utility MACT rule, an Environmental Protection Agency regulation stemming from the federal Clean Air Act that will lead to shutdowns of coal-fired power plants across the country. The rule was upheld 53-46.

However, Brown had previously acknowledged the job-killing effects of the rule. He called new EPA regulations "burdensome" in February 2011, and said they could harm economic growth.

"Without careful consideration, the unintended consequences of imprudent regulation could ultimately undermine our shared objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and spurring economic growth," Brown stated in a February 2011 letter to the president.

Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky denied that Brown's decision was influenced by outside environmental groups, but would not deny that Brown discussed the MACT rule with environmental groups prior to his vote.

"(Sen. Brown) certainly talks to environmental groups. I'm not going to deny that," Barasky said.

The League of Conservation Voters purchased a six-figure ad buy for Brown in Ohio in March, shortly after Brown voted in favor of continuing to extend tax credits to renewable energy companies.

Brown’s Republican challenger Josh Mandel recently released a statement criticizing Brown’s vote and claiming the incumbent Democrat has voted "22 times for measures that would hurt Ohio coal."

The Utility MACT ("Maximum Achievable Control Technology") Rule requires plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins within three years, with a possible two-year extension for plants that fail to comply within the first three, as adjudged by EPA officials.

Plants that fail to comply within five years will be shut down.

"When this administration came in, I heard from many people that there was a new way of thinking when it comes to coal," Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA official and current head of the Environmental Strategies group at the Bracewell Giuliani law firm, told the Free Beacon.

"Many of these coal-fired plants have been around for decades and have always avoided the need to put on these new controls. But now the rule is, ‘You either put on all the latest controls or you have to shut down,’" Holmstead said. "I think it is an unprecedented rule."

The rule will cost $11 billion per year, according to EPA estimates.

"EPA claims these costs are quite low, but I know a lot of people who believe these costs are actually quite high. I’m more in the latter camp. It’s clear EPA has downplayed the cost of a lot of these regulations," Holmstead said.

The rule could cost up to 3,000 jobs and could raise electricity prices for lower-income families, according to insiders and energy experts.

Duke Energy Ohio announced that it would retire all six of its coal-fired power plants at W.C. Beckjord Station in New Richmond, Ohio, by January 1, 2015.

Energy insiders suggest utilities companies have fiscal incentives to support the new regulations.

"It has not been uncommon at all for some of the utilities to look for reasons to close down facilities that are operating and paid for because they want to replace them with new facilities that they can charge more for and make more money on," said Daniel Kish, senior vice president at the Institute for Energy Research.

"Duke is not just closing plants in Ohio," Kish added. "Duke has announced an agreement with environmental groups in North Carolina to close some plants. A lot of coal plants are being closed using the government’s regulations as a justification. In some cases it’s an excuse."

Duke Energy Corporation PAC has contributed $5,000 to Brown’s campaign this election cycle. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is co-chair of the Charlotte host committee for this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Duke stockholders have challenged Rogers for supporting President Obama’s "war on fossil fuels."

The federal government has promoted the MACT rule as a public health issue mainly focused on mercury.

"We can’t have children dying because their air and water is polluted," Brown spokesman Barasky told the Free Beacon.

"The EPA gets more of a PR factor out of talking about mercury," Kish said. "They’re trying to scare people."

"I think it’s about climate change," Holmstead said. "But it looks much better politically to promote it as a public health issue."

"There are lots of reasons the environmental community doesn’t like coal, but greenhouse gases is a big part of this," Holmstead said. "It’s actually an issue for them about reducing flying-particle pollution, which relates to climate change."

Support for controversial climate change legislation has hurt Democrats at the polls. A number of congressional Democrats who voted for the 2009 Waxman-Markey climate change measure were voted out of office in the 2010 elections. Republicans and pro-business groups cited their support for the bill as the reason for their electoral defeats.