FRANKFORT — A draft of Kentucky's response to proposed federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions won't be available until next month, but the state plans to express concern about the limits' economic impact, Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters told state lawmakers Friday.
Kentucky will retire the majority of its aging coal-fired power plants in coming decades, making it essential that federal rules on "new sources" of carbon dioxide are reasonable, Peters told the legislature's Special Subcommittee on Energy. Rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency rely on a technology — carbon capture and storage — that has not yet proven commercially viable at coal plants, he said.
Final EPA rules on carbon emissions are expected by June 1, 2015, setting a "challenging" deadline for Kentucky to craft its individual state plan, Peters said.
The EPA is imposing tougher limits on carbon emissions to reduce the severity of climate change. Scientists since the 19th century have considered carbon dioxide to be a "greenhouse gas" that traps heat in Earth's atmosphere, Peters said. However, Kentucky's economy has come to depend heavily on coal mining and on the cheap electricity for industry that burning coal provides, he said.
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"This is a global issue that we're dealing with," Peters said. "But the impacts on Kentucky are significant."
The EPA's proposal for existing power plants aims for a nationwide reduction in carbon emissions of 30 percent. But each state faces different scenarios based on their unique circumstances, so Kentucky's reduction would have to be 18 percent.
For new power plants, the EPA proposed a cap of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Utility companies say that would be an impossible goal for coal using current technologies. Kentucky's best-performing coal plant goes only as low as 1,750 pounds per megawatt hour, state officials say.
Several lawmakers from the Eastern Kentucky coalfield told Peters that their region has lost thousands of jobs because of EPA rules making it difficult to mine and burn coal. Their constituents are less concerned with climate change than they are with supporting their families, the lawmakers said.
"We're all for a cleaner environment. But it has to be done with a balance," House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, told Peters.
Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said it makes little sense for the United States to abandon a cheap, reliable energy source like coal when other countries — particularly China — are preparing to bring hundreds of new coal-fired power plants on line, potentially erasing whatever environmental benefits that U.S. sacrifices created.