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.
June 27, 2014--In early June, the Environmental Protection Agency released new national carbon emissions standards aimed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pollution thirty percent by 2030. The proposed regulations are a landmark, the first ever attempt at limiting these harmful emissions. Although the new standards were designed to allow states flexibility in reaching the target levels, many Kentucky politicians were quick to brand the effort as a new phase in the mythical “War on Coal.”
In a Courier-Journal op-ed, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) compared the new standards to those implemented in Germany, and went so far to brand them as a “dumb ass policy.” Stumbo listed three actions:“massive shifts to renewable energy” with dramatic coal reductions, a “complicated system of subsidies” and an electricity bill surcharge.underpinning the German plan. Then heposed the question: “Do these goals...sound familiar?”
No, in fact, they do not. What does sound familiar is the same old tune that Stumbo and other politicians keep singing: that renewable energy will always fail and that coal is our only reliable energy source. The Speaker’s logic is flawed when he insists that there is a direct correlation between the renewable energy policies of Germany and the United States—and Kentucky in particular.
Here are the facts:
· The U.S. has only planned to make moderate shifts to renewable energy. We will begin making reductions in the most polluting and expensive coal-fired power plants while maintaining our current nuclear power supply—not eliminating it.
· The U.S. is not setting up a complicated system of subsidies for these regulations
· The U.S. is not implementing a surcharge to pay for this transition
These stand in stark contrast to the supposed actions that Stumbo listed. Further, the Speaker failed to address some fairly major differences between Germany and the Commonwealth. At present, ninety-three percent of Kentucky’s electricity is generated from coal. The Commonwealth currently has no renewable energy policy and will be assuming only a one to three percent reduction of coal by 2016. Unfortunately, we are one of the last states to adopt any kind of reasonable energy efficiency measures. This means that the new emissions standards provide Kentucky with a great opportunity to address our dependence on a finite resource while assisting our utility providers as they transition into a renewable future.
Now, we can indeed learn valuable lessons from the growing pains of Germany. When that nation decided to become a leader in renewable energy, necessary investments had not yet been made in the grid’s infrastructure.
Germany invested heavily in solar capacity, when a more balanced approach incorporating increased wind power might have been a better option. Nuclear plants were shuttered, while new coal plants were constructed instead of modern natural gas facilities.
Finally, Germany set itself a lofty goal of becoming eighty percent renewable by 2050. To assist in achieving this, they instituted a tariff to be paid by residential energy customers while exempting the energy industry. This flawed policy created an unequal burden on ordinary German citizens.
Challenges aside, Germany understands that a fossil fuel-based energy system is simply not sustainable and it continues to work to improve the transmission & storage system so it can reap all of the rewards its renewable investments have created. We in the United States can learn from their growing pains and ensure that we do not make the same mistakes in leaving behind our extractive past and moving into our sustainable future.
In the conclusion of his op-ed, Stumbo offered some valuable advice. “We need new leadership in Washington that does more than just talk about worrying about the affect this [transition] will have,” he writes.
I agree wholeheartedly. Sadly, it seems that President Obama is one of the few currently exhibiting true leadership on this issue. We need politicians, especially from the Commonwealth, who will lead us into a sustainable, economically viable future. We need leaders to invest in sustainable forestry initiatives, local food movements, eco-tourism, energy efficiency integration, alternative energy sources and a balanced energy portfolio. We need representatives who recognize and assess the true costs of fossil fuel production paid by Kentuckians—poor health, high medical bills, and a shortened life span. And most importantly, we need leaders who can protect both Kentucky’s great natural resources and its hard-working miners by assisting them and their families through this transition by providing education and support.
The new emissions standards have provided Kentucky with a tremendous opportunity. We are now poised to take a comprehensive look at our energy policy and create a balanced portfolio that will protect our environment and increase both the fiscal and physical health of our state and its people.
Heather Warman is executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Fifth Assessment Report—a sobering document that outlines both the human effects on climate change and the consequences of inaction. Specifically, the report cites the dithering by our elected leaders as worsening the situation, as greenhouse gas emissions are increasing more dramatically than ever. However, the report did offer a ray of hope: that there is still a window of time to begin reversing the effects of climate change, and that the political will to do so is rising around the world.
Unfortunately, that is not the case here in Kentucky. Many of our elected officials and candidates continue to deny the existence of climate change, or that much of it is manmade. The coal industry continues to exert its influence on this issue, branding any efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a fictional War on Coal.
Predictably, Kentucky Coal Association Bill Bissett attacked the report’s findings upon its release. “I think it’s more of the same from the Obama administration,” he stated. “It reinforces the notion that they’re out of step with issues that are important to Kentuckians. I think the president is trying to establish these initiatives as part of his legacy, and it’s very clear he’s doing this without the support of Congress or the people of Kentucky.”
Bissett’s statement makes clear that the industry’s “War on Coal” propaganda campaign remains in place. But it also appears that he did not even bother to read the report. If he had, he might have noted some pretty crucial information.
First, the president did not convene either the panel or the report. The IPCC is a scientific body governed by the United Nations, an organization of which the United States is a member. As the IPCC represents over 135 leading scientists who came to a consensus throughout the report, it is a stretch to define the report as coming from the Obama administration.
Second, the report is fair and balanced. Instead of simply being a treatise for the environmental movement, the report contains items and recommendations that environmentalists will find difficult to swallow. For example, the document concludes that coal-fired power plants should be replaced with natural gas plants, as the emissions associated with extracted the gas are “low or mitigated.” One of the possible reasons Mr. Bissett probably wants nothing to do with the report. As an environmentalist we support that mitigation is not just about emissions but the whole cycle of extracted pollution.
Mr. Bissett needs to get his facts straight. But more importantly, he needs to know that he does not speak for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky or its citizens. I was born and raised in Kentucky, and I’ve lived here my entire life. Like countless other Kentuckians, I support the Climate Change Initiative, and I believe that the issues it addresses are vital to the health, well-being, and future of all Kentuckians.
It should come as no surprise that the coal industry is taking this line. After all, this is an industry that has proven to be grossly negligent in protecting and safeguarding the thousands of good, hard-working Kentucky miners that it employs or to invest in technology and practices that might save their industry. Instead, the coal industry has chosen to sequester its wealth among its corporate bosses and lobbyists, many of whom are out of state, at the expense of its workers and the residents of the communities the mining has impacted.
Instead of finger pointing, the coal industry should take stock of their actions and policies. Instead of railing against the Obama administration, they should join in a conversation with concerned citizens and political leaders to support local alternatives to lost mining jobs – with mine remediation, cleanup, monitoring and all of the things they should have been doing as a constant part of their operations that would improve the lives and livelihoods of Kentucky miners, their families and the communities where they live. Instead of living in the past, they should be looking toward the future.
Find this article by KEF Director Heather Warman by clicking here.
By Lane Boldman, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator
Earlier this month I attended the “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” Summit (SOAR), an effort spearheaded by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers, to focus on the future success of southern and eastern Kentucky. Over 1,500 people registered for the event, held on Dec. 9 at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville.
The SOAR Summit was billed as being for anyone concerned about the future of Kentucky’s Appalachian region and willing to share new ideas about how to move the region forward, and was one of many dialogues that have recently taken place on moving rural counties forward to greater prosperity. But I went into this summit with a question: was the gathering an indication the eastern Kentucky is finally ready for a cleaner, healthier future?
KEF attended the conference, and even though there was heavy participation from large industrial organizations affiliated with extraction industries, there was equal representation from groups and individuals who want to see a healthy future for the region.
Many participants advocated job growth by nurturing an improved local foods economy, building tourism though recreational trail initiatives, and support for energy efficiency retrofits. Other topics ranged in scope from building regional collaboration, to providing leadership development, and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.
As the coal industry has itself been slowing its mining operations and choosing to invest in other fossil fuels like natural gas to produce electricity, many other grassroots-led dialogues addressing the topic of coal transition have taken place in recent months. Earlier this year, for example, Appalachia’s Bright Future, a summit held in Harlan, and a similar conference in West Virginia focused on building a more diverse and sustainable economy. And just this week, the Appalachia Transition Summit in West Virginia, sponsored by the Alliance for Appalachia, carried on the work of finding solutions to decades-old problems in coal-producing regions.
I was impressed with many of the conversations at the SOAR conference. Yet the level to which our state and federal leaders will support meaningful support for a clean energy future in Kentucky remains to be seen.
We are at a critical time in Kentucky, and KEF believes that this dialogue provides an opportunity to empower local citizens and build a future where our natural resources and our environment are managed wisely. Moving forward we’d like to see:
KEF will be doing its part to share our ideas for the initiative, based in the Precautionary Principle, environmental justice and democratic decision-making processes. What about you? What is your vision? How could we achieve it?
We encourage our supporters to submit their ideas on how to build a healthy, sustainable future for our rural Appalachian counties.