Where Do Kentucky’s Congressmen Stand on Climate Change? Hard to Tell

Later this week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on climate change. Called “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now,” the committee’s Democrats are calling on scientists, economists and insurance experts to discuss the science behind climate change, and how it’s affecting the country. That’s Thursday at 10 a.m.

But in the House, there’s no similar hearing on the horizon. A group of 22 Democrats calling themselves the Safe Climate Caucus are asking Speaker John Boehner to allow a debate about the science behind climate change on the House floor.

None of Kentucky’s House Delegation is part of that caucus. So I requested comments from all six congressmen, asking whether they would support or oppose a debate about climate change science on the House floor.

Of the six, only Congressman John Yarmuth’s office got back to me.

“I welcome a full House debate on the devastating health, environmental, and economic consequences of climate change,” Congressman Yarmuth said. “Now is the time to act to make the air we breathe safer and advance investments in clean, sustainable technologies that will drive new U.S. industries and create jobs.”

Yarmuth’s spokesman also sent a list of energy and climate change related bills the congressman has voted for or co-sponsored. It’s a long list that includes the ACHE Act, the Carbon-Neutral Government Act, the Safe Climate Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act.

Kentucky’s other five congressmen run the gamut, from acknowledging the existence of climate change to denying scientific proof that suggests humans play a role. But in past statements and interviews, all have downplayed the necessity to address climate change and have instead reiterated their support for Kentucky’s coal industry.

Andy Barr, in a recent interview with WTVQ in Lexington:

“Coal does contribute to climate change,” said Barr.

But he says it’s better for the world if we use coal in America.

“The administration is trying to destroy the coal industry, and the result is more exports to countries like China that have a very poor environmental record,” said Barr. 

Barr says he wants a diverse energy plan.  He says the President speaks out in favor of an all-of-the-above energy plan, but Barr says the President discriminates against coal.

Hal Rogers, in a statement responding to the climate change plan President Obama released last month:

President Obama’s disastrous climate change plan is the latest job-killing bomb to be dropped on Kentucky and dozens of other coal states already knocked down after four years of anti-coal policies. This War on Coal is a war on middle-class Americans – it’s a war on jobs and it has already put 5,700 Kentucky coal miners out of work since 2011. And to think a White House adviser had the audacity to say, “we need a war on coal.” In 2008, the President promised to bankrupt the coalfields and today he took another step toward his reckless, shameful goal.”

Kentucky continues to get 92-percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, but under the President’s plan, more than 200 coal-fired power plants have already shut down in 25 states. The closure of mines and power plants, and resulting hikes in electric rates are expected to cost the US economy some 887,000 jobs per year. 

Brett Guthrie, in a statement responding to the same climate change plan:

“As President Obama prepares to roll out an agenda on climate change, I hope he will also address our nation’s energy needs,” said Congressman Guthrie.  “While claiming to support an all-of-the-above energy program, President Obama has yet to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and the EPA continues its attempt to regulate the coal industry out of business.”

…..Congressman Guthrie recently joined with members of the Kentucky delegation in writing to President Obama about one proposed EPA rule in particular that would effectively ban new coal fired power plants from being built. The rule would also prevent existing plants from making upgrades to improve efficiency, threatening both jobs and current utility rates.

“At a time when we need to do everything we can to promote business and economic growth, this rule would be devastating to Kentucky’s economy and the pocketbooks of families and business owners,” continued Congressman Guthrie.

Ed Whitfield in a 2011 article from The Hill:

Instead, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Energy and Water Subcommittee, argued that, regardless of one’s beliefs about whether climate change is happening, Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations will harm the economy.

“[O]ne need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” Whitfield said at a subcommittee hearing on climate science.

Even if one believes “scary global warming scenarios,” Whitfield said, “the agency’s rules are no solution.”

“In fact, they are counterproductive, because these unilateral regulations would impose an unfair disadvantage on domestic manufacturers, and chase some of those manufacturing jobs to nations like China that have no such restrictions in place and no plans to institute them.”

Thomas Massie, in a January Washington Times article:

Rep. Thomas Massie challenged President Obama to roll out the proof that humans have played a hand in climate change.

Mr. Massie, Kentucky Republican, said he was “disappointed” that the president in his second inaugural address blamed droughts on “human activity” and accused some of “denying the evidence of scientists.”

“As somebody with a science-type background, I took offense at that,” Mr. Massie said during a panel meeting billed as “Conversations With Conservatives.” “I would challenge him to show us the linkage — the undeniable linkage — between droughts and the change of weather, and some kind of human activity.”

What’s interesting is that recently Republican lawmakers have moved away from public climate science skepticism, and have instead chosen to focus on rhetoric like the “war on coal” and economic concerns.

From the Hill:

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), asked Wednesday whether GOP leaders will challenge Obama on scientific grounds, trained his fire elsewhere.

“Our argument with the president right now is that he is picking winners and losers, he is harming innovation, and it is going to be a direct assault on jobs,” McCarthy told reporters.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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