Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 2, 2014

State politicians, leaders angry over EPA standards

CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — Reaction in coal-friendly Kentucky to new carbon emissions regulations announced Monday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency was swift and harsh.

Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is locked in a tight re-election bid with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, called the new rules “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.” He promised to sponsor legislation to overturn the new rules.

Grimes was also critical.

“Coal keeps the lights on in the commonwealth, providing a way for thousands of Kentuckians to put food on their tables,” Grimes said in a statement released by her campaign. “I will fiercely oppose the President’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry.”

The rules seek to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 U.S. levels by the year 2030 and are a response to growing evidence of climate change and studies which show carbon and particulate matter pollution contribute to higher rates of disease and mortality.

Kentucky generates about 93 percent of its electricity from coal, compared to about 38 percent nationally. Kentucky is the country’s third-largest producer of coal but coal jobs and production have been slipping dramatically.

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

But EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday carbon emissions do make people sick. She said one in 10 American children suffer from asthma and EPA estimates the new regulations will prevent between 2,700 and 6,600 premature deaths and more than 140,000 asthma deaths.

McCarthy said the “Clean Power Plan” will lower medical bills and cut trips to emergency rooms. By 2030, she said, health benefits will total about $90 billion and “average electric bills will be 8 percent cheaper.”

The rules offer states flexibility and coal-dependent states like Kentucky won’t be required to reduce emissions as much as other states.

That didn’t appease coal supporters.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who once said the EPA should “get off our backs,” said he is “extremely concerned” the regulations don’t provide enough flexibility or attainable goals.

Beshear said he shares Obama’s “desire to protect our climate” but “that desire must be attained while also providing economic security to our families and businesses.” He said he will continue reviewing the new rules and will be active in the 120-day comment period.

 State Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Morehead, said the rules are another blow to Kentucky’s coal industry and economy. He said they “have devastating consequences on Kentucky,” including loss of jobs in the coal and manufacturing industries and higher utility rates for Kentucky consumers.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul called the regulations “an assault on the economy [and] an illegal use of executive power.”

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett agreed, saying Obama is acting unilaterally because he couldn’t pass climate change legislation through Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Congress gave EPA the authority to impose such regulations when it created the agency.

Like McConnell, Bissett blamed Obama, Reid, EPA “and their anti-coal allies” for what he says will be higher utility rates and damage the nation’s economy.

McConnell is certain to go after Grimes on the new rules. But the Grimes campaign says it’s ready. Her campaign spokeswoman said Grimes plans a major advertising push on the issue this week.

One newspaper ad she provided says “Obama and Washington don’t get it . . . Alison Grimes does.” The ad pictures a photograph of a miner holding a lump of coal at the top and Grimes at the bottom.

It goes on to say Senator Grimes will work across the aisle with Republicans to save coal jobs and “oppose anyone who works against Kentucky’s coal industry.”

Kentucky Republican Congressmen Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Andy Barr also criticized the regulations.

Not everyone was unhappy. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said the new rules offer Kentucky opportunity to “seize this moment to create good new jobs by cleaning up harmful pollution and moving to cleaner and sustainable forms of energy.”

Other environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, applauded the new rules.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.