Environment

Kentucky regulators are seeking an extension for the state to comply with upcoming federal carbon dioxide regulations. But to do that, the state may have to show progress toward completing a state plan — a move that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has strongly opposed in the past.

Bevin announced the move on Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan last year.  It sets carbon dioxide reduction goals for individual states and gives state regulators two options: to craft their own plans to meet the goals or follow a federal blanket plan.

Even after Thursday’s announcement that Kentucky will seek an extension — which the EPA is offering in case states need more time to create their own plans — Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown was adamant that Kentucky is “not submitting a state plan.”

But Bevin, in a statement, mentions Kentucky “retaining control” of the state’s energy future, which would rule out the option of following the federal blanket plan.

“My job as governor is to do what’s best for the people of Kentucky,” said Bevin said in the statement. “We have had many thorough conversations with stakeholders from all across Kentucky, including ratepayers, utility companies, local governments, small businesses, manufacturers and farmers, about the best path forward. We have come to the conclusion that it is in the commonwealth’s best interest that we retain control of our own energy future.

“Toward that end, we are submitting an extension request,” he continued. “We are requesting this extension to allow serious legal challenges to progress through the court.”

Kentucky is tasked with reducing carbon dioxide emissions nearly 31 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. The regulations target carbon dioxide from power plants, and coal-fired plants are heavy emitters. Because Kentucky still relies heavily on coal-fired power, most Kentucky politicians have panned the new rules.

During his campaign, Bevin told WFPL News he wouldn’t submit a state plan to the EPA — or comply with the rules at all.

The administration of Bevin’s predecessor, Steve Beshear, had begun work on a state plan to comply, maintaining it would be preferable to having to follow the federal plan. The state has already made progress in reducing emissions; some older coal plants have shut down and have been replaced by cleaner natural gas.

In December, outgoing Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters stressed the importance of continuing work on that plan.

“I will continue to advocate that Kentucky should figure out how it’s going to submit a plan so that we do not have a federal plan imposed on us,” Peters said in a WFPL interview. “Is it going to be painful? Yes, it can be painful. Is it possible? Yes, with a lot of work it’s possible. If we’re going to litigate, that’s fine, there may be reasons to litigate. But there’s also no reason we should not move forward with preparing a plan.”

The EPA requires states to prepare an “initial submittal,” which includes three components:

  • “An identification of the final plan approach or approaches under consideration by the state and a description of progress made to date on the final plan components;
  • An explanation of why the state requires additional time to submit a final plan; and
  • A demonstration or description of the opportunity for public comment the state has provided on the initial submittal and opportunities for meaningful engagement with stakeholders, including vulnerable communities, during preparation of the initial submittal, and plans for public engagement during development of the final plan.”

Brown said the state plans to hold listening sessions to get public comment, but it was unclear what the public would be commenting on if the state is not, in fact, planning on submitting any work toward a state plan.

The deadline for a state plan is September, though the EPA has said it will grant extensions.

In the meantime, Kentucky is fighting the Clean Power Plan in other ways. Former Attorney General Jack Conway joined a lawsuit with other states challenging the rule’s legality. A federal court ruled Thursday that it wouldn’t block the implementation of the rules while the legal challenge proceeds.

And last month, current Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely filed a formal petition with the EPA requesting they reopen the public comment period on the plan.

This story has been updated.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.