July 31, 2014--In June of this year, the EPA released the Clean Power Plan, which for the first time proposes rules that seek to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.
These proposed rules are important for Kentuckians in a number of ways, particularly with regard to our health. Carbon pollution is a significant contributor to both asthma and cardiovascular disease. Kentucky has some of the highest asthma levels in the nation, and has significantly elevated levels of cardiovascular disease compared to other states.
This week, myself along with dozens of fellow Kentuckians traveled to Atlanta to attended one of four public hearings held across the country on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which will limit pollution from existing power plants. Thousands of citizens across the country spoke out at these hearings, demanding action on curbing carbon that contributes to climate change.
These carbon protections will help us clean up and modernize the way we power our country — a move that will make for healthier kids, families and workers, while incentivizing much-needed clean energy jobs. A 2012 study by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) found that recommended investments in renewables and energy efficiency in Kentucky could result in 28,000 clean energy-related jobs over ten years.
But rather than embrace this clean energy future, Kentucky continues to reach backward to far dirtier options. Last week, the Herald-Leader reported on a carbon-capture demonstration project at the E.W. Brown Power Plant in Harrodsburg, hyped as a potential “game changer” for coal. This demonstration project is estimated to cost nearly $20 million in taxpayer dollars. While research of this kind is always important to explore, Kentucky really needs to re-evaluate its priorities.
In reference to the Brown project, Governor Beshear stated: “The health of Kentucky’s entire manufacturing economy is highly dependent on our ability to continue to generate affordable, readily available energy.” Well if that is so, then why are we wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive, experimental projects rather than simple, inexpensive and easily achievable initiatives such as energy efficiency?
The most affordable energy is the energy not wasted. Yet currently Kentucky is one of the few states with no significant state-led initiatives to address how efficiently we use our power.
Efficiency measures would extend the life of Kentucky’s present fleet of power plants and is available to implement right now. Since our per-capita energy consumption in Kentucky is among the highest in the nation, energy efficiency is one of our best avenues for real progress.
It is ironic that the E.W. Brown plant was chosen as a demonstration for this so-called “clean coal” technology when this plant has been guilty for massive (and illegal) coal-waste contamination of nearby Herrington Lake. Tests of the water there show arsenic at more than 14 times the amount determined safe for Kentucky drinking water.
Nothing wrong with exploring options for capturing carbon from dirty coal-fired power plants, but let’s leave that to the coal companies to fund, since they made the mess in the first place. We need to get our priorities straight and realize that the future for energy in Kentucky is one that must be diversified. Expanding our clean energy and efficiency options will not only improve our energy security and reliability, but will also improve the health of all Kentuckians.
Lane Boldman is Energy Advocacy Coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Comments on the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, [GHG/Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants, EPA Sec. 111(d)]
The Kentucky Environmental Foundation is an organization dedicated to securing solutions to environmental problems by safeguarding human health, promoting environmental justice and encouraging sustainability. In this capacity, we advocate for strong regulations to control the health impacts of carbon emissions in the state of Kentucky.
We appreciate the EPA’s attention to the urgency of addressing climate change, and urge the EPA to further strengthen the regulations for carbon pollution in the Existing Source Performance Standards (Clean Air Act section 111d) and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Key areas for strengthening the Clean Power Plan:
Health Impacts: We would like to see the EPA demonstrate how each of their proposed methods for carbon reduction in the Clean Power Plan protects human health. Kentucky is a state that has elevated asthma rates and cardiovascular disease, both of which are linked to carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan does not address environmental impacts to human health and externalities of the whole fuel-cycle as the basis for decision-making.
The American Public Health Association and the World Health Association have identified climate change as one of the biggest threats to public health in this era. Kentuckians face a wide range of risks associated with climate change including more extreme weather, extreme heat, drought, and shifts in vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes that carry life threatening diseases including Lyme disease and West Nile virus. And our state has already suffered significant damage from carbon pollution for many decades.
Pollution from fossil fuels is dangerous, particularly for children, because it can trigger asthma attacks and can permanently reduce lung function. Kentucky has some of the highest rates of asthma in the nation. According to the CDC, in 2008, adult lifetime asthma prevalence was 14.7% and adult current asthma prevalence was 9.7% compared with U.S. rates of 13.3% and 8.5%, respectively.
In addition, air pollution can affect cardiovascular diseases, where Kentuckians have significantly higher rates. According to Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Cardiovascular disease accounted for 30% (12,547) of all deaths in Kentucky in 2009 and ranked 8th out of 50 states for cardiovascular death rates.
EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards could protect our citizens more by reducing the smog that triggers asthma attacks and other health threats. But efforts by our state regulators and state enforcement efforts still leave Kentuckians near the bottom of every indicator compared to what is actually possible, or being achieved in other states.
State regulators are either unable or unwilling to strongly enforce local standards that protect human health from coal’s impacts. And the impact has been significant. A report by Kentucky Environmental Foundation called a “Health Impact Assessment of Coal and Clean Energy Options in Kentucky” outlined sources of data showing the relationships between the extraction, processing, transportation, burning, and disposal of coal combustion waste and health, while also outlining the health benefits of cleaner energy sources.
Environmental Justice: The Clean Power Plan does not do enough to address concentrations of localized pollution. We would like to see stronger incentives to protect low-income communities, who can be disproportionately affected by carbon pollution.
Stronger Reduction Goals: Even though the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing carbon pollution from power plants 30% by 2030, the EPA estimated that we could make these reductions faster. We know we can go much further than 30% by 2030 because states are already going beyond EPA's proposal by retiring dirty power plants and scaling up renewables and energy efficiency.
For example in Kentucky, our Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy, John Lyons, recently stated that the average carbon emissions of Kentucky's fleet of coal-fired power plants should meet the new standard by 2020. That's because 11 coal boilers are already scheduled to shut down because of other EPA air quality regulations. So in other words, Kentucky can meet the Clean Power Plan standards simply by continuing their present course, with little incentive for additional innovation.
While we understand the desire for flexibility across states, that flexibility should not override strong incentives for states to “step up their game.” While the new EPA standards call for a 30 percent reduction in the nation’s carbon emissions by 2030, Kentucky’s specific goal is a cut of only 18.3 percent. Our state agencies will tell you this gives them the flexibility they need, but this degree of “flexibility” is a disincentive for real action.
We understand that states like Kentucky have a major challenge, given that 93 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from coal. However Kentucky’s progress to date allows it to remain at the very bottom of every indicator: from efficiency, to clean power, to protection of human health. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan continues the subsidization of obsolete coal-fired and nuclear power, making it more difficult to move our state forward onto cleaner resources.
Stronger Incentives for Energy Efficiency and Renewables: The Clean Power Plan incentivizes conversion of coal towards natural gas and nuclear, over conversion to wind, solar and most importantly for our state, energy efficiency. The plan focuses on end-of-stack emissions instead of the Best Available Technology approach, and only lists energy efficiency as an “option” not a mandate.
Efficiency is a particular issue for Kentucky. We are far behind many other states when it comes to diversifying our energy portfolio. Our state has no Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard or Energy Efficiency Resource Standards. And Kentucky ranks third among states in per customer electricity use while having some of the lowest per-capita income rates in the nation. In other words, our per capita energy consumption is among the highest in the nation. Energy efficiency is one of our best avenues for real progress.
What the EPA has proposed with the Clean Power Plan can move us forward. But not fast enough. Louisville, our largest city, is already the number one urban heat island in the nation. And our dependency on coal has made us economically vulnerable. Coal mining in Kentucky has collapsed, with a loss of 40% of the state’s coal mining jobs since 2011. Coal-related jobs are now less than 1% of statewide employment.
Clean energy and efficiency could create significant employment opportunities for the state. A recent study found that the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, a proposed state legislation requiring investments in renewable energy and efficiency, would result in over 28,000 jobs in ten years.
Because of our state’s strong historical ties to the coal industry, political will continues to under-value cleaner alternatives. Therefore we must rely on the EPA for those clean energy incentives.
 CDC: “Asthma in Kentucky” (2011) http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/stateprofiles/Asthma_in_KY.pdf
 Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services “Cardiovascular Fact Sheet, 2010” http://chfs.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/738A1FCB-4F89-4C25-A6E1-548D3E36BE29/0/KentuckyCardiovascularFactSheet2010.pdf
 Kentucky Environmental Foundation: Health Impact Assessment of Coal and Clean Energy Options in Kentucky. January 2012. http://www.kyenvironmentalfoundation.org/uploads/1/8/5/9/18595042/kef_health_impact_assessment_energy_report_web.pdf
 “New EPA Rule Won’t Affect Power Plants,WBKO,July 3, 2014, http://www.wbko.com/home/headlines/Official-New-EPA-Rule-Wont-Affect-Power-Plants-265749521.html
 Governor’s Office of Energy Policy. 2008. “Kentucky Energy Watch Special Edition: Electricity in Kentucky.” Retrieved May 27, 2009 (http://www.energy.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/6BD66312-4950-4312-AAF7-263E70A58A4A/0/SpecialEditionElectric12008.pdf
 “Kentucky Coal Jobs Continue Their Record-Breaking Decline” Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 18, 2013. http://www.kentucky.com/2013/11/18/2939551/kentucky-coal-jobs-continue-their.html
 Rick Hornby, Dr. David White, Dr. Tommy Vitolo, Tyler Comings, and Kenji Takahashi: Potential Impacts of a Renewable and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard in Kentucky. Prepared for the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development & the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance, January 12, 2012. http://www.maced.org/files/Potential_Impacts_of_REPS_in_KY.pdf
July 18, 2014--This summer, S.O.A.R. (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) is holding hundreds of listening sessions across Eastern Kentucky to gather feedback on what communities feel is required for a brighter future. The project, initiated by Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressmen Hal Rogers, has drawn a lot of attention both regionally and nationally in its effort to address a few of the toughest economic, social and environmental challenges in the country.
A recent session in Prestonsburg tackled health. The workshop of about 20 members opened with some startling statistics:
Kentucky ranks 50th in the country for total mortality, 50th for cancer, 49th for poor mental health, 49th for heart disease and 48th for the number of people who have a high school diploma.
How did we get here?
The conversation suggested a whole myriad of issues at play. Education, employment, poverty, access to medical resources, nutrition and having safe, walkable communities were on the list. But just as much, having the political and social will to address these issues was considered crucial.
The ideas for change were as diverse as the challenges.
When it comes to obesity and nutrition, elders need to be involved to teach younger generations how to grow a garden and can their own food. We need to make water safe to drink and get soda machines out of schools. We need to build sidewalks that allow folks to go outside to get some exercise and not be concerned about their own safety.
When it comes to asthma, investments in home energy efficiency can help families save money and improve air quality.
We need investments in education. We need to create health clubs that allow students to have a voice in the process. We need to pay attention to the kids smoking in the bathroom and rethink why Mountain Dew and a honey bun have become acceptable breakfast items.
We need needle exchanges to curb the spread of HIV resulting from a boom in heroin use. We need to talk about mental health as a real concern and not ignore the fallout that comes from not having a job, battling addiction and struggling with the ranks of poverty.
Some basic advice suggests that the formula to a healthy life is easy. Eat right, don’t smoke, get plenty of exercise and plenty of rest. It’s simple.
But Eastern Kentucky’s health statistics suggest that it’s not. Lasting change requires collaborations, community engagement, education, sharing of success stories and a broad look at all social and environmental indicators of health.
History tells us that political decision-making in our state has not always prioritized health. Leaders in the region have supported cuts in affordable health care, WIC nutrition programs, school nurses, Pell Grants for higher education and subsidies that provide heat for low-income families.
The reality is that if we want to make a break from our past, we’ve got to be more forward-thinking about prevention, education and how we make our investments. Eastern Kentucky is already full of ideas, and solutions are currently in action. Now it’s up to the region’s leaders, not just those in political office, but the teachers, dentists, nurses, CEOs, students and parents, to start thinking big on change. Only through the voices and leadership of Kentucky’s brightest and best will we get Kentucky moving toward better health.
Deborah Payne is the health coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
July 14, 2014--While recently in Letcher County, I spoke with a young man who described the economic realities of living in Central Appalachia. He told me he had to choose between "going into the coal mines and destroying the land I love, going into military service and being forced to leave my family, or illegally selling prescription drugs."Nearly a week earlier, I had spoken with a student from duPont Manual High School in Louisville who had decided he would leave Kentucky to go to college because he wanted to study software engineering for renewable energy infrastructure.
He said renewable energy was the fastest-growing energy industry, and he thought Kentucky would continue to fall behind as the rest of the nation and the world developed cleaner and safer energy technologies.
These stories spotlight the fact that while our young people are being forced into choosing between unimaginably depressing situations or leaving, our political leaders are doubling down on absolutely ignoring the needs of our future leaders and pretending our state doesn't have a serious energy economy problem.
Since the Environmental Protection Agency released draft carbon-pollution standards (something young people overwhelmingly support), Kentucky's political leaders have lined up to denounce them.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers were in rare agreement when they jointly called the standards a "dumb-ass policy," even though the policy reflects what the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet had requested from the EPA.
Secretary of State Alison Grimes and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell have come out in support of uninhibited fossil-fuel expansion. Both Senate candidates lack a vision to change our energy economy.
And then there is the June 23 op-ed by former U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis. Davis basically concluded that:
■ The U.S. should not be a leader in addressing carbon pollution because other industrial countries, such as China, aren't doing anything.
■ Kentucky should not focus on developing renewable energy and investing in energy efficiency because it would cost too much.
■ Only radical environmental activists believe we should regulate carbon pollution.
Upon closer examination, Davis' arguments do not pass the reality-check test.
■ The Pew Charitable Trust reports that China is the global leader in renewable energy investments (almost $20 billion more than the U.S. in 2013). The day after the EPA unveiled America's carbon-pollution limits, a Chinese official talked about China introducing a carbon cap of its own, likely starting in 2016.
■ A 2012 study by Synapse Energy Economics stated that the introduction of legislation in Kentucky that would require utilities to invest more in energy efficiency and renewable energy over 10 years would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 15 percent; reduce average electric bills by 8 to 10 percent; achieve net increases of 28,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in gross state product.
■ A recent Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 70 percent of Americans want the federal government to limit climate-change pollution from power plants, including 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents and 79 percent of Democrats.
The poll asked voters if they would support carbon limits even if electricity costs rise, and 51 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Independents and 71 percent of Democrats said yes.
So I say to Davis and all the current elected officials, young Kentuckians need leadership, not politics. It seems like the people we have elected to Frankfort and Washington are standing around pointing fingers as our families and friends are dying from cancer and respiratory disease while being forced to tell their siblings they can't drink out of the well, swim in the streams or even grow crops on our polluted lands.
All this drives young entrepreneurs and other businesses away. Will we have to look into our children's eyes and confess that we had the opportunity, but lacked the courage? That we had the technology, but lacked the vision?
For all our sakes, I sure hope not.
Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/07/14/3335619/tyler-j-offerman-ky-leaders-coal.html?sp=%2F99%2F349%2F#storylink=cpy
Tyler J. Offerman is the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition's renewable energy and policy organizer.
Read more here.