HYDEN — To people in Eastern Kentucky who blame federal environmental rules for a sharp downturn in coal production, the Obama administration's ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions seemed like more bad news Monday.
The reason: It will be hard for many coal-fired plants to meet the new limits, further undermining demand for coal in a place where more than half the jobs in the industry have disappeared in recent years.
Doris Lawson, manager of the Double Kwik convenience store in Hyden, said most customers she talks to oppose more stringent regulations.
"I believe that the coalfields are being singled out," Lawson said.
Retired miner David Collett said his son, a miner, needed a new vehicle but was afraid to take on the payments.
"You don't know if you're going to be working one day to the next," Collett said.
The factors in the downturn in Eastern Kentucky coal are more complex than environmental rules alone, also involving cheap natural gas, high mining costs and competition from cheaper coal.
Still, environmental rules have become a punching bag. Top Kentucky officials, Republican and Democrat alike, decried the new emissions limits from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the rules probably would result in higher electricity costs and lost jobs in Kentucky, while doing little to affect global climate change.
"It represents a triumph of blind ideology over sound policy and compassion," said McConnell.
Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said the rules would be a further "assault" on coal-mining communities at a time when Eastern Kentucky already is down.
"The energy sector that once fueled this nation by providing low electricity rates for businesses across the country has been patently rejected by the president and his army of unelected bureaucrats at the EPA," Rogers said.
Matt Bevin, the GOP nominee for governor, said Obama was implementing radical rules with "utter disregard" for the law.
He also went after Attorney General Jack Conway on the issue, saying that while Conway claims to support the coal industry, he is supported by "extreme environmentalists" who fight against it.
"The hypocrisy is shameless," Bevin said in a statement.
Conway, however, said he sued the Obama administration over the plan earlier and would join an effort to block the rule from taking effect while it is being challenged in court.
"It is apparent that the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that hurt Kentucky," said Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor. "This is about the future of our commonwealth and ensuring that our state doesn't bear the brunt of an ill-conceived Washington, D.C., regulation that hurts Kentucky coal and Kentucky jobs."
Conway also said he would ask Gov. Steve Beshear's administration to stop developing a state plan to comply with the rules.
McConnell also has urged states not to draft plans.
However, officials in Beshear's administration have said it is prudent to develop a state plan to meet the rules rather than face the chance the federal government would impose a more onerous plan.
Beshear said in a statement Monday that the state would continue exploring ways to meet the plan if it becomes law.
However, he also said he was extremely disappointed because of changes EPA made from the rule it first proposed last year.
That proposal called for an 18 percent cut in Kentucky's carbon emissions from 2005 levels, which the state was making good progress in meeting.
State officials were still analyzing the final plan late Monday, but it appears it now requires a 32 percent cut in mass emissions, said Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Beshear said the plan would be "disastrous" for the state's coal industry and manufacturing sector, which has been built in part on low electricity rates. He vowed Kentucky would fight it.
"This rule leaves the commonwealth with few, if any, alternatives to formulate a plan without significant harmful impact to rate payers, manufacturing companies and the overall economy," Beshear said.
East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Kentucky Utilities also expressed concern about the tighter limits.
The new limits probably will further erode coal use in Kentucky and result in an increase in electricity costs, though the full effect isn't known, KU said in a statement.
Anthony "Tony" Campbell, president and CEO of East Kentucky Power, said the limits "effectively remove coal as an option for future power plants," in addition to requiring reductions at existing plants.
"This will put pressure on costs to rise," Campbell said. "As we move away from coal, there are serious questions that must be addressed about the affordability and reliability of alternatives, including natural gas and renewables."
There was support in Kentucky for the rules, however.
Supporters said Obama's Clean Power Plan was a much-needed step to attack damaging climate change and reduce emissions that cause health problems.
"Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long," said the Sierra Club, which has been active in environmental battles in Kentucky.
The plan also would boost development of renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs, creating jobs in the process, supporters said.
"We believe that a diversified portfolio of energy options that focus on clean and renewable sources and efficiency is in the best interest of Kentucky's citizens," the Kentucky Conservation Committee said in a news release.
The committee called on state lawmakers to adopt measures encouraging energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.
Tom Sexton, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a former city council member in Whitesburg, said Obama's plan could help create the economic diversification that Eastern Kentucky desperately needs.
Dana Beasley Brown, chairwoman of the citizens group, said studies have shown that even a modest increase in renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs could create tens of thousands of jobs and save money on electricity.
"The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity to build a new energy economy here that is strong, healthy and good for all people, while addressing climate change," Brown said. "Kentucky can do this. Now we need the leaders who will step up to the challenge and seize this opportunity."