Some departments of the Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet will see deep cuts over the next two years, if the General Assembly approves Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed budget.
In his budget address Tuesday night, Beshear placed an emphasis on reinvesting in education in the commonwealth, even as he acknowledged it would come at the expense of other areas. “Some cuts went way too deep,” he said during his speech. “These are the agencies which ensure that the water we drink is clean … protect us in times of weather-related disasters.”
The Energy and Environment Cabinet is already stretched thin with several consecutive years of budget cuts. This is the part of state government that does everything from monitoring air and water pollution to inspecting coal mines and strategizing ways Kentucky’s energy portfolio can comply with federal environmental regulations.
In his speech, Beshear said many state departments could expect a 5 percent cut. And for some of the areas of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Beshear is recommending budgets for 2015 and 2016 that reflect that.
But some areas will see deeper cuts. In Beshear’s proposal, the Division of Conservation (a part of Natural Resources which provides assistance to local conservation districts around the state) could see a nearly 40 percent difference between its actual funding and the funding it requested for 2016. The Nature Preserves Commission will see drops of 21 and 31 percent, respectively, from what they requested and what they’ll get in 2015 and 2016.
And the cuts will be even more drastic for Energy Development and Independence—the department that spearheads research in renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon capture, as well as compiles comprehensive reports about Kentucky’s energy landscape every year. There’s a 35 percent difference between the funding the department requested for 2015, and the amount Beshear proposed. By 2016, the difference between requested and recommended funding is 70 percent.
Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council says he’s concerned about the efficacy of the state to protect the environment.
“We have passed the point where these programs can be effectively implemented,” he said. “I think it is clear from the serial cuts that have been recommended by the Beshear Administration, that this administration does not take clean air, clean water, management of contaminated properties and management of waste very seriously.”
FitzGerald says his hope is that the General Assembly will recognize the severity of the situation and restore some of the cuts. If not, he says Kentucky should consider handing over control of several of its environmental regulatory programs back to the federal government.