Politics

Kentucky lawmakers are criticizing the federal Clean Power Plan, which will place the first-ever national carbon dioxide restrictions on existing power plants.

Released earlier this month, the federal plan orders Kentucky  to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 31 percent by 2030. The EPA’s final rules were much more stringent than the 18 percent reduction outlined in a previous draft version.

The Environmental Protection Agency predicts Kentucky will meet the standards a decade early due to market pressures and current regulations on the coal industry. But Eastern Kentucky lawmakers on Monday said the new regulations would cripple the already ailing coal industry in the region.

“It infuriates me what’s happening to our people in East Kentucky,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook, at a legislative committee meeting in Frankfort.

Because of the limits on carbon emissions, the plan will require the state to turn to new forms of power generation, especially natural gas and renewable energy.

Adkins said Kentucky’s historically inexpensive electricity rates will balloon, making the state less attractive to businesses.

“The next shoe to fall is going to be in other regions in this state and other regions in this country when you don’t see the expansions of Toyota anymore, you don’t see the expansions of Ford anymore, you don’t see the expansions of Corvette anymore,” he said.

Kentucky has until Sept. 6, 2016, to submit a compliance plan. Officials with Gov. Steve Beshear’s Energy and Environment Cabinet are working to create a transition document to hand over to the next administration in December. However, both major party gubernatorial nominees — Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin — have indicated they wouldn’t continue the work.

In the absence of a state effort, federal officials would create a plan to dramatically reduce emissions in Kentucky — unless the state and others are successful in suing the EPA over the regulations.

“We’ve never been developing a plan, never,” said John Lyons, assistant secretary for climate policy for the Beshear administration. “We’ve been developing a transition document — and only recently — for the next administration. It’s become incumbent upon us to analyze this rule and to tell the next administration, ‘Look, here’s the data we have, here’s what we’ve seen, and take it and do with it what you want.'”

Earlier this year, Beshear’s administration was hopeful that Kentucky would be able to comply with the final version of the Clean Power Plan without significant carbon reductions. But Beshear cooled to the policy after details of the Clean Power Plan were revealed on Aug. 3.

“We thought previously that we might be able to develop a feasible Kentucky-specific plan to comply with the rule proposed last summer,” the governor said in a statement after the plan was released. “In our current review of the rule, it’s clear that this ill-conceived one-size-fits-all plan will do significant harm to Kentucky families.”

The rule is expected to be published in the federal register in early September, at which point Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has promised to sue the EPA along with attorneys general of other states. In recent weeks, Conway has joined other state attorneys general in preliminary filings against the EPA Clean Power Plan.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Sean Riley told the committee on Monday the state should challenge the rule quickly because it is scheduled to submit its compliance plan just a year later, in September 2016.

“The harms outweigh the benefits when we proceed this quickly,” he said. “So first and foremost, we need to understand whether the EPA can even do this as a matter of law. We have a right to know that answer before we start spending all this money to get into a place of compliance.”

Sen. Jared Carpenter, a Republican from Berea, said the federal government is rushing states that oppose the plan so it can be implemented before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

“I think they realized a lot of states were wanting to delay this process to, maybe, where their time ran out, but it sounds like now they’re really going to put a full-court press to address this issue before time runs out,” Carpenter said.

During the meeting, Lyons gave a word of caution against not submitting a state plan, saying it could actually speed up the regulatory process.

“If you don’t submit a state plan, then they can implement a federal plan immediately. That’s one cautionary element that I would put out there in terms of whether to submit a plan or not,” Lyons said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.