FRANKFORT — In Kentucky, where global warming skeptics are given a warm welcome before coal-friendly legislative committees, a major effort to rein in climate change began Thursday.
The Kentucky Climate Action Plan Council, whose members were appointed last month, held its first meeting with an eye toward having a series of policy recommendations by the end of the year.
Its task, as defined by state government: "Identify opportunities for Kentucky to respond to the challenge of global climate change while becoming more energy efficient, more energy independent and spurring economic growth."
The group's purpose is not to debate climate science, said Len Peters, secretary of the state Energy and Environment Cabinet and chairman of the climate council.
"The whole issue ... has entered into the realm of politics at this point," he said. "Whether you are a naysayer or you think the science is right ... we want to get beyond that. The nation, the world, is saying we need to move forward in this regard."
Although burning coal is considered one of the major human-generated causes of climate change, the state's coal industry apparently has little to fear from the council.
Coal is used to generate half the nation's electricity, and more than 90 percent of Kentucky's.
Peters said as the state looks forward to the next 10 or 15 years, an important consideration will be remaining competitive with other states on the cost of electricity.
The council will look at things such as clean coal technology, burning renewable fuel along with coal, and capturing and burying the carbon dioxide from coal, he said, "keeping those rates low and at the same time reducing carbon."
Peters said the council's work will mesh well with the work of a task force that recommended more use of renewable energy sources, and Gov. Steve Beshear's November 2008 energy plan that set a goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gases while increasing jobs.
Reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions won't be easy.
From 1990 to 2005, Kentucky's emissions increased at double the national rate, according to a draft report prepared for the council. Kentucky emissions rose 33 percent during the period; nationwide, emissions rose 16 percent.
The report was prepared by the Center for Climate Strategies, a non-partisan, non-profit group formed in 2004 to help governments with climate change issues.
Tom Peterson, CCS' president and CEO, said that more than 30 other states have prepared climate change plans like the one Kentucky is beginning.
The state is paying CCS $200,000 to work with the climate council. An additional $97,500 is coming from the Blue Moon Foundation and the Turner Foundation.
On Thursday, the council heard a long list of things other states are doing to curb greenhouse gases. They ranged from demand-side management, where a home owner can see how much electricity he is using and turn off unnecessary appliances, to dealing with the methane emitted by cows.
Deciding which of those policies to recommend for Kentucky will be the responsibility of the 31-member council and technical committees that will include members of the council and others with scientific or other expertise.
The council includes Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry (who sent a representative in his place Thursday), and state and federal officials. It also includes people from the coal, aluminum, lumber and automobile industries, and two or three people who could be identified as environmentalists.
That didn't escape Tona Barkley, a member of the Frankfort Climate Action Network, who sat through the 51/2-hour meeting to speak during a public comment period at the end.
She said that the council was a great idea but added that she would like to see more environmentalists on it. Peters, the chairman, suggested more people could be added to the technical committees.
The only other member of the public to speak was Connie Lemley, a farmer, who also talked about what the council was missing: People who could speak for inhabitants of island nations that could be submerged by rising sea levels, African farmers hit by droughts caused by a changing climate, polar bears, and birds that migrate hundreds or thousands of miles only to find that the insects they always depended on are not around.
"I guess one of my real concerns about meetings like this is that the solutions that seem feasible are not really what we need to do," she said.