Area businesses say sustainable practices pay off; some unions, politicians wary of carbon limits

Area businesses say sustainable practices pay off; some unions, politicians wary of carbon limits

July 29th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Wayne Elrod, an EPB electric dispatcher, works in EPB's all-new, state-of-the-art distribution center designed to complement the citywide Smart Grid and fiber-optic network.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to conduct hearings today on controversial new carbon limits for power plants, Chattanooga business leaders Monday voiced support for such pollution controls and energy limits.

During a session with EPA's regional administrator Monday organized by the White House Business Council, local restaurateurs, utility leaders and tourism representatives said Chattanooga's history of cutting pollution and growing its economy demonstrates the business case for a cleaner environment.

"We know from our experience that going green makes good business sense and doing the right thing helps our bottom line," said Elizabeth Hammit, administrator of environmental policy for EPB, the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga.

EPB's smart grid has helped limit the amount of miles driven by maintenance trucks along EPB transmissions lines by 360,145 miles in the past year, or the equivalent of taking 75,000 vehicles off the road. Carbon emissions and other pollutants also have been cut along with reduced fuel consumption through biofuel-powered vehicles used by EPB and free home energy audits done for the utility's customers.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Chattanooga can be a leader in addressing climate change and the threats it poses for global warming.

"The reality is that we see a different climate than we have ever seen before and that affects us in many ways," Berke told EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney and others at a forum organized by BusinessForward. "Where is there a better place to tell the story of sustainability than in Chattanooga, Tennessee? Chattanooga has a chance to be at the forefront of sustainability, not at the back end."

But others are wary about EPA's proposal to set carbon limits on power plants for the first time.

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Mine Workers unions are testifying today in Atlanta and at other hearings this week in Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., in opposition to EPA's proposed Clean Power plan. The IBEW, the largest employee union in Chattanooga, says the EPA plan will cost more than 150,000 good jobs with only minimal impact on the global output of carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming.

"If these rules are implemented as written, dozens of coal plants will shut down and with no plans to replace them, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and global carbon emissions will rise anyway (due to more coal plants in other countries)," IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill said in a statement Monday. "EPA's poorly thought out rule will do nothing but kill vital jobs and threaten the reliability of the electrical grid, hurting customers and businesses."

EPA wants to reduce carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. The Tennessee Valley Authority is on pace to meet that target after deciding to shutter or install coal scrubbers at 18 or more of the 59 coal-fired plants it once operated.

But State Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, wants Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper to join other attorneys general in Texas and Oklahoma in fighting the proposed new EPA carbon limits for utilities. Casada estimates the new EPA rules could add $30 a month or more to customers' electric bills.

"This affects how much groceries you have and how you raise and clothe your family," Casada told Tennessee Watchdog, which is opposed to the EPA limits.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission is considering whether to challenge the EPA carbon rules, which are currently going through public review.

"I don't think you can get more against them than I am," Northern Mississippi Commissioner Brandon Presley said earlier this month.

But in Chattanooga, business owners Monday said they have found cutting energy use and carbon emissions good for their businesses.

"We feel like buying local and doing the right thing really makes a difference and has helped us do better as a business," said Sally Moses, owner of the 212 Restaurant in downtown Chattanooga. "Dealing with climate change is what you do every day and I think Chattanooga is on the right track."

Cindy Todd, chief marketing officer for the Tennessee Aquarium, said the aquarium has found ways to reduce energy and water use to save more than $9,000 a year in expenses while also being more sustainable with its environmental practices.

"Being environmentally sustainable is good for business," she said.

Chuck Wilkins, who moderated Monday's discussion among business owners, said Chattanooga's experience in cleaning up what was once the most smog-filled air in the country shows what can be done.

""The reason I think that our story is so relevant is the task was so monumental in the past it seemed like this was something that couldn't be done," Wilkins said. . "Now, like then, we are going to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.