Perhaps the most accurate statement regarding the 2015 Government Spending Bill came from Sen. John McCain, who was quoted saying "it's jammed full of sh--." The "cromnibus" bill appropriates $1.01 trillion, and will keep most government offices in operation through September. Though House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers called the bill "a win for Kentucky," it depends on how you look at it. Personally, the bill makes me uneasy. Here's why:
The new spending bill cuts the EPA's budget by $60 million, which means that the agency must reduce staffing to its lowest numbers since 1989. Rogers claims the budget is necessary to "rein in" government "overreach." However, despite accusations that the agency "kills jobs," we must not forget that the EPA's primary responsibility and deeply important mission is to protect human life.
In fact, the most hated regulations of pro-coal policy makers are the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) and the new Carbon Pollution (111d) Standards. Both take measures to protect human health from the hazardous emissions of coal-fired power plants: the nation's largest single source of mercury, carbon and a slew of other toxic pollutants that have been linked to cancer, kidney failure, respiratory disease, central nervous system damage and even premature death. A 2014 report from the Center for Effective Government found that the MATS rule could "prevent between 4,200 and 11,000 adult deaths, 20 infant deaths, 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis, 4,700 heart attacks, more than 2,600 hospital admissions for lung and heart disease, 3,100 emergency room visits by children with asthma, and 130,000 asthma attacks in children each year, among other health benefits." Similarly, a Harvard University study suggested that the new Carbon Pollution Standards could have a variety of health benefits, including preventing up to 3,500 premature deaths.
Not surprisingly, the spending bill rejected President Obama's request for $66 million to expand programs to protect our health from the harmful effects of air and water pollution, and to hire federal regulators to oversee state regulatory programs.
It would be one thing if Kentucky had a glowing track record for upholding environmental regulations. However, our state's regulatory bodies have been systematically underfunded, and worse, embroiled in scandal. Most recently (and most embarrassingly), state Rep. Keith Hall, a strip mine operator who was also chair of the House Tourism, Development and Energy Committee and was a vice chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, was charged for bribing a mine inspector to ignore a host of violations at Hall's mining operations. The list of egregious violations included ignoring property lines, ignoring blasting laws, letting fly-rock destroy property and homes, and polluting local waterways. Given Kentucky's track record, would a stronger, more accountable federal-state regulatory partnership be such a bad idea?
The bill is also bad news for clean water. Remember when the Bush administration renamed toxic mining waste to "fill material" so that coal companies could bypass the Clean Water Act? One rider in 2015's budget prevents the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from changing the name of "fill material" to mining waste, meaning that toxic byproducts of mountaintop removal mining will continue to legally contaminate Appalachian streams in 2015.
The budget bill also ensures the continuation of coal production at home and abroad in 2015. Obama's request for funding for renewables was cut by 16 percent, and yet the bill allotted 20 percent more than the amount requested for fossil fuels exploration (yes — 571 million of our tax dollars will be subsidizing highly profitable fossil fuel industries this year). Finally, though in 2013 President Obama promised that he would prohibit funding for the construction of new coal-fired power plants overseas, a rider in the 2015 spending bill prohibits any such funding limitations.
To be fair, the bill does appropriate $10 million to the US Economic Development Administration to help distressed coal mining communities. Ninety million will fund the Appalachian Regional Commission and another $10 million will support broadband initiatives in central Appalachian counties. However, the new budget also cuts funding for the Community Block Grant Programs, and allows big corporations to cut pension payments for over a million retirees, making the bill's overall benefit for Appalachia questionable.
Is the new budget bill "a win for Kentucky"? Hardly. Less funding for regulatory bodies will mean more environment-related health problems. Kentucky already suffers from extreme health disparities often worsened by air pollution and poor water quality. At best, the new bill will preserve the status quo in 2015.
This blog post was written by Shelly Biesel, originally as an op-editorial for the Courier-Journal, find it 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.
Thank you to KET’s Bill Goodman and to the other guests on last night’s Kentucky Tonight, and to all the people who called and wrote in to the show last night, for spirited and important conversation on Kentucky’s energy future!
In the spirit of armchair analysis, here are a few things that I wanted to assert and respond to last night, but either didn’t have my wits about me, or ran out of time:
1) Renewable energy is reliable. States with high percentages of renewable energy are not suffering blackouts because the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day. The current grid can handle multiple and diverse energy sources. That, coupled with the ability of utilities to predict weather and their customers’ electricity usage, means there’s no reason for Kentucky to be lagging behind in the integration of solar, wind and hydro sources. Less predictable are the behaviors of power plants; even when power plant accidents cause immediate shutdowns (such as at the Spurlock power plant near Maysville in 2004, or Georgia’s Plant Bowen this spring http://www.romenews-tribune.com/view/full_story/22446368/article-Georgia-Power--Worker-errors-led-to-Plant-Bowen-explosion) utilities know how to shift electricity sources to ensure we enjoy a steady supply of electricity.
Kentucky currently generates such a small amount of renewable energy, that the “reliability” issue is a non-issue. Setting clear goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy that can stabilize utility bills, improve health and spur new job growth in coal communities that need it most, and by the time we are generating enough renewable energy to have any impact on the grid, storage technologies and other technology improvements will likely be implemented elsewhere.
2) Kentucky has good potential for hydro power development. I realize now that the term “high lift” describes massive hydro dams like Hoover Dam and I agree with the caller that Kentucky is not suited for that size hydro system. However there are many existing dams that could be utilized to help diversify our electricity sources. One good example of this harnessed potential is the Mother Ann station near Harrodsburg http://www.kyhydropower.com/. And here’s a thoughtful article on a 2012 report looking at Kentucky’s hydro power potential: http://bizlex.com/2012/07/kentucky-can-make-a-meaningful-investment-in-hydropower/. Having dams certified as “low impact” means special attention is given to addressing and avoiding harmful impacts on the ecosystem and communities surrounding dams.
3) Germany is a good, though not perfect, example of renewable energy integration. They have less annual sunlight than Kentucky, but are the world leader in solar energy generation since they set a goal of 80% renewable generation by 2050. Prices of installed solar panels have dropped 50% since 2006. True, Germany is looking increasingly to coal now because of well-warranted concerns about nuclear energy plants following the Fukushima disaster. Just over a year ago, while at the Rio+20 UN Summit, I heard about this conundrum from several German energy experts. Germany’s situation is not a perfect situation. But it can serve as a “shining” example that Kentucky’s leaders should be willing to harvest more energy from the sun.
4) Scientific data speaks for itself. Dr. Michael Hendryx is one of many, many scientists in the U.S. who have analyzed the health hazards of coal pollution. Regardless of his personal opinions, the methodology used in the community health survey results he published this past March in the peer-reviewed Journal of Rural Health is sound. For the research, students from Christian colleges raised their own money to come to Kentucky for their spring break last year, were trained in surveying methods, and went door to door in three Kentucky counties to gather data on public health. Public health organizations and governments rely on questionnaires to collect important data all the time – take the U.S. Census, for example – and the method is sound.
The results were tallied and compared, and the community experiencing mountaintop removal mining (Floyd County) experienced statistically significant increased incidences of some illnesses - particularly respiratory illness - than people in the other counties (Elliott and Rowan). No scientist in such a situation can claim a proven cause-and-effect link; that’s not their job.
Regardless of their personal beliefs, neither the students, nor the scientists were paid to express opinions (in contrast to someone who is an employed spokesperson or lobbyist for a coal industry association, for example). And what’s so bad about Christians (like the group Restoring Eden, who arranged but did not pay students to engage in the project) being concerned about the impacts of pollution on our planet?
The point is, if coal industry leaders are truly concerned about coal workers and community members living near mining sites, they would be equally concerned about the results of the study and interested in preventing any disproportionate impacts on Floyd County residents, because it’s the morally correct thing to do, even if there’s no proof that the illnesses are linked to coal activities.
5) Let’s embrace the gray areas. The future of coal and energy in Kentucky is complicated, more gray than black-and-white. KEF is currently working through a Health Impact Assessment process, with residents and community leaders in and around the Paducah community, to assess and make recommendations on public health protection regarding the retrofit or retirement of the Shawnee power plant. The HIA involves investigation of direct health impacts from pollution, but also the links between employment, economic development and health care access, and many other quality of life issues that could deeply affect the community no matter what the fate of the power plant.
In listening to people there, as well as in many other communities all over the state, we find there’s a yearning for meaningful dialogue on these complexities. There’s also a desire for leaders who will do more than try to hang on to the status quo, but rather take bold steps in the interest of common Kentuckians, not only the interest of big industries. So let’s ask the tough questions, embrace the gray areas and strive for real energy solutions.
There’s much more to be said, of course, and KEF is working to bring together people with many perspectives on our coal and energy future: community members, health professionals, small business leaders, elected officials and others who believe we deserve healthy families, a clean environment, sustainable economic development and safe jobs. All together. Please join us!
Click here to see the episode of Kentucky Tonight with Elizabeth as a guest (air date July 1, 2013).