President Barack Obama is finally fulfilling a campaign promise — too bad it's coming at the expense of working families in Kentucky and elsewhere.
The campaign promise was to enact energy policies that would make it very expensive and unattractive to burn coal, Kentucky's most abundant natural resource. The latest proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency continues the war on coal.
According to the EPA, the new rules will cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030. Under the proposal, existing power plants could be forced into expensive upgrades or a full and costly switch from coal to natural gas. Or, plants could close entirely, which is a very real and economically frightening prospect.
Supporters of the proposal will argue that Kentucky will have to cut just 18.3 percent of its carbon emissions to be in compliance compared with states like Washington, which will have to figure out a way to eliminate 72 percent of its emissions, according to a Wall Street Journal article.
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But John Lyons, Kentucky's assistant secretary for climate policy, rightly noted that we will have a tough time of it. Fully 93 percent of Kentucky's power is generated from coal, the burning of which produces more carbon dioxide than oil and natural gas. Kentucky burns 40 percent more coal than the national average and reducing that footprint in the Bluegrass State is going to be extremely costly.
There are more than 180,000 families in Kentucky who live below the poverty line, and energy costs for the poorest households eat up about 70 percent of their paychecks, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Not only will an increase in electricity rates disproportionately hurt these families, but it will also harm seniors living on Social Security benefits — all without doing a much to improve the environment.
Beyond the higher energy costs to Kentucky families, more of our precious coal jobs will be forever lost. The coal industry in Kentucky has been shedding jobs at an astronomical rate in recent years. By the end of 2012, there was a 22 percent loss of coal jobs in just that year alone while coal production fell by more than 16 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet.
Kentucky keeps much of its coal at home — consuming fully 25 percent of the coal we mined. But, coal is also one of our largest exports; in 2011, we shipped 60 million tons to 19 other states and 7.1 million tons to foreign countries. By making coal less attractive to the rest of the nation, Obama is guaranteeing that Kentucky coal jobs and production will continue on a devastating downhill slide.
For all of the economic pain of carbon regulations, there is no environmental gain.
U.S. power plants have already cut carbon dioxide emissions by 21 percent below 2005 levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Even with that progress, former EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, concedes that unilateral action by the U.S. to reduce emissions will have zero impact on the climate unless countries like China and India are onboard with similar restrictions.
To the everlasting wonder of radical environmentalists, those countries are not enacting similar policies because they recognize the simple truths that burning coal can be done cleanly with current technologies and that coal remains among the cheapest and most efficient sources of energy.
But we live in era of "do something" politics where activists and their political cronies are desperate to be seen as taking strong stands, regardless of the consequences on working families who depend on jobs from the coal industry to stave off poverty.
Under the EPA's proposal, which Obama hopes to enact through executive fiat, it will get a lot harder for Kentucky's working families to make ends meet. The fact that environmental activists will have "done something" will be little solace when the bills come due and the coal jobs are gone.