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June 2, 2014

Kentucky bristles at new EPA regs

‘A dagger in the heart of American middle class’

FRANKFORT — The Obama administration Monday released long awaited and, in Kentucky, much feared, new regulations designed to lower the nation’s carbon emissions by 30 percent and particulate matter by 25 percent by 2030.

The rules are a response to growing evidence of climate change and studies which show carbon and particulate matter contribute to higher rates of disease and mortality. Critics and supporters alike are calling it one of the strongest environmental actions ever taken by the U.S. government.

The new rules didn’t get much applause in coal-reliant Kentucky.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who accuses President Barack Obama of waging “a war on coal,” characterized the announcement by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class and to representative democracy itself.” He promised to introduce legislation to overturn the new rules but conceded it has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

His Democratic opponent in this year’s senate race, Alison Lundergan Grimes, pounced on Obama too.

“President Obama’s new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky,” said Grimes in a statement, calling the rules “the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry.”

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett called them “very bad news for states like Kentucky who mine and use coal to create electricity.” He said it will cost jobs and lead to higher electrical bills for consumers.

“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration for all intents and purposes, is creating America’s next energy crisis,” said Mike Duncan, the Inez banker, McConnell ally and head of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

The country has already reduced carbon emissions by roughly 10 percent since 2005, primarily through greater use of natural gas. The 30 percent goal is a national target and individual states will be given individual goals based on their particular circumstances.

The new rules allow states to use a wide variety of strategies to reduce total emissions and won’t automatically require closing coal-fired power plants which are the biggest source of carbon pollution.

States like Kentuck,y which rely more on coal, will be allowed to emit more carbon than others, according to senior EPA officials. Kentucky must reduce emissions by only 18 percent while New York has a target of 44 percent. But states like New York, which have already reduced emissions, will get credit for what they’ve already accomplished.

Kentucky is the nation’s third-largest coal producer. But production and employment are down significantly in eastern Kentucky coal fields and stagnant in the western part of the state.

Kentucky generates about 93 percent of its electricity from coal, compared to about 38 percent nationally. While it isn’t the biggest gross emitter of carbon, because of its reliance on energy hungry manufacturing and coal-fired generating plants, Kentucky releases more carbon per megawatt hour of electricity than any of the 50 states.

That makes coal and the new rules a major issue in the McConnell-Grimes Senate race, with McConnell constantly linking Grimes to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who once said “coal makes us sick” and Grimes trying to distance herself from Obama and his environmental policies.

McCarthy said one in 10 American children suffer from asthma. EPA estimates the new regulations will prevent between 2,700 and 6,600 premature deaths and more than 140,000 asthma deaths.

Environmental groups praised the new regulations. Appalachian Voices, an environmental group based in Virginia, said stronger energy efficiency programs will boost economic prosperity, creating 77,300 jobs in Appalachia by 2030.

McCarthy clearly anticipated the negative reaction from political, coal and industry sources and scoffed at it, saying the same critics said the sky was falling in the past when tougher acid rain and gas mileage standards were implemented.

“Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried wolf to protect their own agenda, not the agenda of the American people,” McCarthy said. “And time after time we followed the science, we protected the American people and the doomsday predictions never came about.”

She said the new rules over time will increase jobs and save money.

That contradicts a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that claims the new rules will cost $50 billion a year and $289 billion in increased electrical rates by 2030. Environmental analysts say the report is flawed.

Kentucky, according to EPA, emitted about 2,158 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour of electrical generation in 2012. EPA wants that reduced to 1,763 pounds by 2030 and suggests strategies to do it — from energy efficiency, to using more natural gas, to market-based trading programs, sale of credits from those reducing emissions to others which haven’t met the new standards.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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