Environment

Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet secretary has drawn both praise and criticism for comments he made during last week’s Climate Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.

As quoted in Politico, Len Peters told conference attendees that he was impressed with the way the Environmental Protection Agency had provided outreach and guidance to states crafting plans to comply with upcoming federal greenhouse gas regulations.

“‘I want to start off by saying I’m from Kentucky and I’m not a climate science denier,’ Peters said at today’s Climate Leadership Conference, drawing an enthusiastic applause from the crowd. Peters works for Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.

Peters said he wanted to publicly compliment EPA ‘on what they have done with outreach in leading up to the proposed regulation…The outreach they’ve done, I think, is incredible,’ Peters said. EPA had an ‘open door policy. You could call them, talk to them, meet with them…and we did take advantage.’”

The EPA’s proposed regulations require different emissions reduction goals from different states, and states are encouraged to craft their own plans for meeting the targets.

Kentucky regulators have been vocal about their concerns about the effect these rules could have on the state’s coal industry and economy; Peters’ cabinet published a white paper laying out those concerns in 2013.

Peters’ comments last week have made coal industry supporters—like Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett—question whether the Energy and Environment Cabinet is out of step with Kentucky policymakers and the general public.

“[Peters] has kind of gone out on a limb here, I think, with his own personal opinions as it relates not only to climate change but also to the president’s proposals that are going to have a real negative impact on the economy of Kentucky,” Bissett said.

He pointed to the General Assembly’s passage of a bill last year that is meant to preempt the EPA’s regulations by requiring the commonwealth to adopt its own emissions standards for coal-fired and natural gas power plants. Bissett said he’s not suggesting that Peters not discuss the rules with EPA.

“I appreciate the working relationship he has with the EPA; it’s just a little concerning when you’re seeing this ongoing list of praises from the secretary to the EPA and from the EPA in return,” he said.

Peters’ remarks were well-received by Kentucky’s lone congressional Democrat. In a congressional hearing last week on the EPA’s proposed budget, Peters’ comments were praised by both Rep. John Yarmuth and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“Can I just say, Len Peters is a very honorable man,” McCarthy said, in response to a question from Yarmuth. “His advantage in Kentucky is that he looks at both energy and environmental issues together. And I think it provides an advantage to the state to see that these plans can be done and actually will provide benefits to the state, in terms of the utilization of energy supplies that are both effective for a reliable and cost-effective supply but also can be designed to be effective in reducing pollution that impacts their health.”

Yarmuth said: “You obviously think that states like Kentucky which are coal-dominated can benefit from the funds that would be appropriated under this budget.”

McCarthy answered: “They absolutely can, as well as the incentive fund that the president has proposed in this budget, which is $4 billion. And I think we’ve designed this in a way to recognize that Kentucky doesn’t and shouldn’t have the same standard that states that aren’t so heavily reliant on coal have. So we’ve designed it in a way that’s achievable from the get-go but also is flexible enough to allow folks like Len Peters to get his arms around it and make it work.”

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.