It's not the newest EPA regulations on coal plants Kentucky should be most worried about, official says

07/03/2014 11:42 PM

While state energy and environment officials are not sure the overall impact of proposed federal rules on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, they said Thursday there another regulation should be of greater concern to Kentucky.

John Lyons, the assistant secretary for climate policy with the Energy and Environment Cabinet, told legislators on Thursday that the real coal fired power plant killer is another regulation handed down from the Environmental Protection Agency before the most recent rules. The one Lyons referred to is a rule released last year that would cap greenhouse gas emissions for any yet-to-be-built coal power plant, which Lyons said would mean no new ones.

“Our concern really in the long run is not 111(d) and the rule we’re talking about today, it’s really 111(b) is really the future of any coal fired generation,” Lyons said. “If that rule prohibits that either through the lack of technology available…we won’t be able to have the coal fired generation we’ve had in the past. And it will essentially drop off until near 2050 we’ll be all natural gas.”

Meanwhile, Lyons told the legislature’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee that rule the EPA proposed last month to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants has given states the “flexibility” Kentucky officials requested from the agency.

Twenty employees are still pouring over the regulations to gauge its effects on Kentucky, which gets about 90 percent of its power from coal plants.

A “bright spot,” Lyons said, is that the EPA allotted Kentucky the second highest level of carbon dioxide in the country under the new rule. And the rate of reductions in the state will likely not force any additional coal fired plants to shutdown, he said.

State energy officials already are anticipating a gradual switch to natural gas as the fuel continues to be a cheaper alternative to coal. However, Lyons said the agency has not yet put together a plan to meet the planned carbon reductions by 2030 as the new EPA rule would require.

In a 2013 white paper report t sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration requested flexibility for states to create carbon reduction measures unique to those states. But Beshear said in his letter that the overall report — and the estimates of potential reductions — aren’t necessarily what the commonwealth would do but what Kentucky could do to curb emissions.

That white paper sparked the ire of one Eastern Kentucky Republican Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard. He told Lyons Thursday he considered it “letting the EPA off-the-hook.”

After the meeting, Smith told Pure Politics that he doesn’t believe the EPA has the authority to mandate reductions to pollutants.

“I think we don’t need to compromise with a group that doesn’t have the authority by congress to make us do these things. Today they said if we don’t comply the federal government is going to do this to us or the federal government is going to do that,” Smith said. “Well, you know what, I don’t think so. I think that if the federal government was going to do something they would have passed cap and trade.”

Legislators at Thursday’s interim committee meeting voiced their frustrations with President Barack Obama and the EPA as well as the the media. For instance, committee co-chair Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, thanked reporters for listening before berating a recent editorial that he said painted him as a hysterical doom sayer.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, mocked climate change science and repeatedly asked Lyons about global warming in an apparent cross examination, forcing Gooch to intercede after several rounds of questions.

Lyons told Lee that its a controversial issue. But he said as a scientist, he believes climate change is clear. He said he just wished the EPA would go about solving the problem differently.


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