Last month I attended a hearing of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources, which included a presentation from the Energy and Environment Cabinet on the proposed federal Clean Power Plan.
Under the plan as currently proposed, Kentucky would need to reduce its power-sector carbon emissions rate 18 percent between 2012 and 2030.
While this sounds like a significant reduction on the surface, the goal is far less stringent than most state goals across the country.
More importantly, the information from the cabinet presented two clear facts: Coal is continuing to decline in this state, regardless of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Kentucky is well on its way to meeting the plan's goals.
What was unfortunate during this hearing, however, was the accompanying presentation by the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity. It encouraged lawmakers to delay any action in building a state implementation plan and then predicted that the rule would result in an "enormous" increase in electricity prices and risk to reliability, with a particular impact on low-income communities.
First, several analyses of the plan indicate that by full implementation in 2030, electric bills in Kentucky will be nearly 8 percent lower than without the plan, saving the average household over $100 annually. Second, it seems somewhat disingenuous for coal lobbyists to raise questions about the impacts of cleaner power to low-income communities, after a long, well-known history of pollution and health impacts by the coal industry to these same communities.
Our most vulnerable citizens are most at risk from health impacts of climate change and air pollution. According to the Clean Air Task Force, 71 percent of African-Americans live in counties that violate air-pollution standards, primarily because of coal-fired power plant emissions. Impacts to low-income Appalachian mining communities are just as profound. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown public-health costs of pollution from coal operations estimated to be $75 billion per year.
While the recent Supreme Court ruling will be a temporary setback for efforts to clean up coal-fired power plants, it should not slow down the need for Kentucky to diversify its energy portfolio, improve the health of its citizens and create new jobs in the clean-energy and energy-efficiency sectors.
Rather than accept scare tactics, lawmakers should look to exciting opportunities for diversifying our energy needs, as demonstrated by a recent presentation to the Special Subcommittee on Energy by the Kentucky School Board Association, which highlighted that Kentucky is in the top 10 percent of ENERGY STAR schools across the nation.
The organization's efforts have resulted in avoided energy costs of over $13 million annually, with the potential of significantly amplifying those savings across the state. This came about as a result of 2008 state legislation to promote efficient use of energy in public buildings.
Just imagine how much these benefits can be amplified by expanding and adding solar to the mix, as demonstrated by schools such as Richardsville Elementary in Warren County. You would think that rather than hold on to old, dirty power, lawmakers would embrace incentives to quickly move Kentucky to a cleaner, more diversified portfolio of energy options that can expand the potential for new jobs and greater cost savings.