Indiana chamber rejects ex-EPA chief Pruitt effort to keep coal-fired plants online


April 22 (Reuters) - The leading business lobby group in Indiana on Monday rejected a plea from former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to back legislation that would keep aging coal-fired power plants online because it would raise electricity rates for local businesses and homeowners.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce took the unusual step of calling out Pruitt and Rail Point - a coal company with whom he has registered as a lobbyist - for pressuring local lawmakers to block utilities Vectren Corp and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co (NIPSCO) from shutting their remaining coal plants and replacing their generation capacity with natural gas and renewables.

Hallador Energy Co, the parent of Rail Point, on Saturday announced it hired Pruitt, who resigned as the head of the EPA amid a series of ethics investigations, as a lobbyist who is calling on the state legislature to put a moratorium on new utility generation purchases.

The Indianapolis Star on Friday reported that Pruitt registered as a coal lobbyist in the state.

The Chamber's 50-member energy committee unanimously rejected Pruitt's campaign.

"Not one person we've talked to or heard from - except for Scott Pruitt and Rail Point - thinks the moratorium will benefit ratepayers," said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

"The ... explanation provided by Pruitt did not sway our energy policy committee (comprised of representatives of member companies from around the state) or our thinking that the moratorium is simply a bad idea."

As EPA administrator, Pruitt pursued President Donald Trump's stated goal of saving coal industry jobs and undoing regulations imposed by President Barack Obama's administration aimed at slashing carbon emissions.

Pruitt and his client Hallador argued that Vectren and NIPSCO's decision to close their coal plants were driven by the Obama-era power plant rules that the Trump administration is in the process of unwinding.

"Who better than Scott Pruitt to aid the Indiana legislature on what Trump energy policy will look like?," Hallador said in a statement.

Indiana's Chamber of Commerce said the utilities had already undergone significant planning and gained preliminary approvals, and that upending those plans would hurt Indiana's electric power consumers.

The state House already rejected an attempt to pass a moratorium in a water utility bill earlier this month.

Pruitt and Hallador want lawmakers to reconsider the moratorium as an amendment to a state budget bill, but the Chamber's Brinegar said the business lobby group would continue to urge legislative leaders to reject the "dangerous policy." (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by G Crosse)