The IBEW has filed suit to prevent the implementation of new federal regulations on power plants. The IBEW petition joins the 27 states, several utilities and two other labor unions that are already challenging the regulation.

Under the Clean Power Plan, every state has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that varies based on total output and an EPA determination of how much they could increase efficiency

The Clean Power Plan regulations went into effect Oct. 23 and, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency will require states to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from existing power plants. The final version of the rule would reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The petition for review was filed Nov. 5 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and has already been combined with other challenges to the regulation, said Eugene Trisko, the lawyer representing the IBEW in the case.

“The EPA is creating energy policy and they have neither the expertise nor the legal authority to do it,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We worked with the EPA for years to address greenhouse gas emissions with a plan that is both effective and legal. Unfortunately, we don’t believe this regulation is either.”

Stephenson said implementing this rule as written would be a disaster for working men and women and would disrupt the engine of our economy, a reliable power grid.

“Human-caused climate change is real, and a real threat, but focusing on power generation in isolation –leaving out industry, agriculture and transportation—ignores three-quarters of the problem,” Stephenson said. “Everyone will benefit from an effective response so everyone should share in the cost.”

Instead of simply requiring plants to increase efficiency using available technology, they have set a target of nearly 40 percent reduction in emissions from coal plants that would require shutting down production and, presumably, replacing it with natural gas, wind and solar generation that in many cases, does not exist.

“There is no economically feasible technology outside of a lab that would cut emissions nearly 40 percent,” said Utility Department Director Jim Hunter. “Ordering plants to shut down was a power never envisioned by the authors of the Clean Air Act and it has never been allowed by a court.”

Fundamentally, Hunter said, the EPA is trying to solve a problem well beyond its scope.

“I don’t question the goodwill of the EPA, just their authority to make this rule. I have been saying for years, this is a problem that only Congress can solve and they are just not doing their job,” said Hunter, who testified before Congress twice and met with EPA officials more than a dozen times during the writing of the Clean Power Plan.

The Dickerson Generating Station is a coal-fired electric generating plant in Western Maryland that provides a significant portion of the state’s baseload power, but would be difficult to keep running if the Clean Power Plan goes forward as written.

Any plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hunter said, will have to be economy-wide and include all the uses of energy from leaf blowers to manufacturing, cars and trucks, agriculture, building efficiency as well as power generation.

“This rule puts all the responsibility on the back of one industry and the working men and women who are employed there,” Hunter said.

The great risk, Stephenson said, is that if this regulation is enforced as written, it would shutter thousands more megawatts of reliable energy generation without any way of guaranteeing it would be replaced. More than 200 coal-fired power plants have already shut down in the last five years.

“Without that base load, it isn’t just lights, air conditioning, and computers that stop working. Without reliable electricity, our economy simply stops,” he said. “It won’t work, it isn’t fair, and we don’t think it is legal.”

Lawyers involved in the litigation expect the case to be heard and decided by the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2016. Ultimately, Trisko said there is a good chance the case will go to the Supreme Court with a decision by 2017 or early 2018.

“If the regulation is vacated and remanded to the EPA, the Obama Administration will be long over and it will be the next administration that will determine what should be done next,” Trisko said.