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Why Utility Workers Support the Future of Coal



By D. Michael Langford

August 12, 2017 - Community is a term often used to describe small towns or specific populations and, perhaps even more to the point, the sense of shared experience that the people who occupy those places and groups feel with one another.

Just as a keystone species can be said to hold together a broad natural ecosystem, so too can keystone industries result in a human community being woven together around them. A social community that will function and hold together as long as that economic center holds. Unfortunately, as we have seen play out again and again across America, the social and human tragedy is all too predictable once the local manufacturing facility, power plant or mining operation, for example, is abruptly removed from the economic ecosystem and the community surrounding it unwinds.

At the Utility Workers Union of America, we connect the dots from the communities in which our members live and work to public policy choices that can be made, now, to give these anchor institutions a fighting chance to remain the center of their communities. That is why, on federal energy policy, we have been working with a broad coalition of labor unions, conservationists, energy companies and heavy industry, and talking with a bi-partisan group of elected officials, led by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to support the recently introduced FUTURE Act.

By using tax incentives to advance the development and build-out of the infrastructure necessary to capture carbon emissions from power production and industrial processes, the FUTURE Act marks a path forward for carbon-intensive energy and industrial production. Once captured, this carbon can be safely stored underground or utilized in a variety of manufacturing settings, thus removing it from the atmosphere while, at the same time, creating a new source of revenue for the facilities generating the emissions.

For our members in the power sector, particularly those employed in coal-fired power plants, this technology is an opportunity to bend the cost curve, keeping their facilities — and thus their jobs and communities — viable. Just as many towns around the country were built around textile mills, mining operations, steel mills or auto manufacturing facilities, other communities have been built around power plants.

The opportunity to preserve jobs and communities doesn't stop there, however, as capturing carbon from power production and heavy industry also moves us a critical step forward in the fight against climate change. Just as power plants dealt with past emissions such as mercury and sulfur through new technology, so too is it possible to remove carbon from the process.

That's why our Union is speaking out to thank Sen. Heitkamp for her leadership and bi-partisan approach to changing the economics of industrial power production, and why we proudly support the FUTURE Act as a critical step toward incentivizing the capture of carbon emissions. Doing so would save jobs in the power industry, protect the environment, and open a new pathway to realizing our shared national aspiration of building and maintaining the power of community, anchored around the production of power in the community.


Langford is the national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.