Election analysis: What the elections mean for Boilermaker construction work

MUCH OF RECENT work for Construction Division Boilermakers has been driven by provisions in and amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA). In the 1990s and 2000s, thousands of U.S. construction Boilermakers worked on SCRs, scrubbers, baghouses, and other technology made necessary by that law.

Future work will also be driven by the CAA as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strives to establish maximum achievable control technology (MACT) in all industrial facilities burning oil, coal, and biomass fuels. EPA efforts to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases under the CAA (required by a Supreme Court decision in 2007) may also bring a great deal of work to Boilermakers, but the path to those jobs is not yet clear.

MACT rules for Hazardous Air Pollutants (not including CO2) are expected to be finalized this winter. They will require a wide range of industrial facilities to install high-quality pollution control equipment, promising a great deal of work for Boilermakers over the next 4-5 years.

Efforts to reduce CO2 emissions are expected to stimulate technology development and job creation as well, because heavy emitters will need to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The Department of Energy has projected that developing and deploying CCS could generate over one million job-years of work over the next 10 years. However, whether this technology will get the support necessary from the split Congress is anyone’s guess.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says one area Democrats and Republicans may be able to find common ground on is “clean coal.” But if the incoming crop of “Tea Party” Republicans are successful in blocking expenditures for CCS research or are able to strip the EPA of regulatory authority over greenhouse gases — as some have proposed — the resulting uncertainty in energy markets will continue to stall new plant construction.

On the bright side, Boilermakers Legislative Director Abe Breehey said that FutureGen2 and other CCS demonstration projects funded by the Recovery Act would continue to go forward. He also suggested that Senator Rockefeller’s proposed bill to fund 8 to 10 small-scale commercial CCS projects could be viable.

State regulators are also expected to lower resistance to new power plant construction, but continuing uncertainty over greenhouse gases might force them to encourage the use of natural gas rather than coal.