EPA rule on coal power plant emissions ratchets up debate

06/02/2014 11:10 AM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO — Kentucky’s U.S. Senate candidates and coal industry leaders warned new regulations on coal-fired power plants that the Environmental Protection Agency released Monday could spell more doom for the region’s embattled coal industry.

The EPA’s proposed new regulations are aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030, based on 2005 emissions numbers. The rule is expected to take a year to finalize, and the plan calls on giving flexibility to states to meet the rules.

Kentucky will need to submit a plan to meet the new requirements. The EPA would hold Kentucky power plants to between 1,700 and 1,900 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour if the rules are adopted.

While the emissions limits Kentucky would be allowed would be among the highest in the nation, the limit is still lower than the carbon dioxide output of single Kentucky power co-cop.

Big Rivers Electric, out of Henderson, emits 2,267 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour as highlighted by Forbes , which is the highest carbon dioxide emission of any of the nation’s utilities.

The president of the Kentucky Coal Association, Bill Bissett, told Pure Politics he was not sure that Kentucky power plants could hit the numbers required by the agency.

“The feasibility is really in question in a lot of ways but clearly that’s not stopping this president,” Bissett said. “The president has made it clear, he’s going to be making this part of his legacy.”

Bissett did say that the state legislature added additional flexibility against the federal government with the passage of House Bill 388 during the legislative session. That legislation directs Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to adjust pollution control performance standards on a case-by-case basis. It was signed by Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this spring.

Within the 645 pages of the proposed regulations, states will have leeway to determine how best to meet the new limits on carbon emissions.

“Each state will have significant flexibility to determine how to best achieve its CO2 goals in light of its specific circumstances … such as employment transition issues, as it designs and implements its plan over multiple years.”

The move to reduce overall carbon will also likely increase the commonwealth’s reliance on other fuels such as natural gas. Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peter told Pure Politics that the state is already making plans to transition natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to whatever cleaner technology emerges in the future.

Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council said the rule change does include flexibility at the state level to change carbon emissions through a variety of ways — not just at the end of a smokestack.

Politicians react

Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell called the new regulations “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.” McConnell has made coal a central theme of his re-election campaign.

“The impact on individuals and families and entire regions of the country will be catastrophic, as a proud domestic industry is decimated — and many of its jobs shipped overseas. Those who don’t lose jobs to foreign competitors will see higher utility costs and other living expenses at a moment they can least afford it. In short, the downstream effects of today’s announcement will be staggering for millions,” McConnell said in a statement.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic nominee, issued a statement to reporters saying that she opposes the proposed regulations and would fight against the president.

“President Obama’s new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky. Coal keeps the lights on in the Commonwealth, providing a way for thousands of Kentuckians to put food on their tables,” Grimes said. “When I’m in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the President’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority.”

Kentucky’s junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said the rules will result in jobs loss at home and hurt everyday Americans.

“This latest assault on our economy by President Obama will destroy jobs here in Kentucky and across the country, and will hurt middle class families by hiking their utility bills and straining their budgets,” Paul said.

“The excessive rule is an illegal use of executive power, and I will force a vote to repeal it,” he said.

Governor Steve Beshear said the new regulations do provide Kentucky with more flexibility, but he said he still has concerns that the rules could be detrimental to the state.

“I appreciate that the proposed rule regarding existing power plants announced today does recognize that differences do exist among manufacturing states and in states that produce the nation’s energy. However, I am still extremely concerned that it does not provide adequate flexibility or attainable goals,” Beshear said.

“This is a 650-page proposal and my administration will continue our review. We plan on being very active and vocal during the 120-day comment period to ensure Kentucky’s families and businesses are protected. The President’s desire to protect our climate is one that I share, but that desire must be attained while also providing economic security to our families and businesses.”

Attorney General Jack Conway, who is running for Governor in 2015, said he was concerned the regulations “would have an adverse impact on Kentucky’s economy, its workforce and its ratepayers,” and he promised to review the changes.

“As Kentucky’s Attorney General, I will be reviewing this 650-page regulation and decide what is the best course of action to take to preserve Kentucky’s low utility rates and its jobs,” Conway said.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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