An advocacy group plans to compile ideas on how Kentucky could meet a federal requirement to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, even as some state politicians vow not to submit a plan.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which advocates for environmental preservation and social justice, set up a survey on its website this week to gather suggestions, and announced plans for a series of public meetings around the state to take ideas.
The goal is to come up with a plan that would satisfy a requirement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for states to cut emissions of carbon from power plants.
Greater use of renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs such as weatherizing homes would help the state achieve the mandate while also creating jobs, members of the group said.
"We see it as having real economic potential for the state," said Steve Wilkins of Berea, a retired Eastern Kentucky University staffer.
The EPA rule is called the Clean Power Plan. It would require state-level cuts in carbon from power plants; Kentucky's target would be 32 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.
Carbon emitted from power plants is a key contributor to climate change that can cause drought, more severe storms and other problems, scientists say.
Coal-fired power plants, which emit the most carbon, would be a particular target. Many could not achieve the lower carbon-emission limits, meaning they would either have to do expensive upgrades, which would push up rates, or close, cutting the market for coal.
That's one reason the plan is controversial in Kentucky, which gets more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal and is the third-largest domestic coal producer.
States are supposed to submit plans by September 2016.
But Kentucky's senior U.S. senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, urged states to boycott the rule and not submit compliance plans.
Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate for governor, said he would not comply with the climate rule if elected.
And his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Jack Conway, joined in a federal lawsuit seeking to scuttle the rule. Conway said if he's elected he would stop work on any state plan until the courts decide the validity of the rule.
One concern in the state is that the plan would hurt the coal industry, which has already lost thousands of jobs in Eastern Kentucky because of competition from cheap natural gas, environmental rules and other factors.
There also is a concern the plan would drive up the state's relatively low electricity rates and cause factories to cut jobs.
"It will take away a big advantage" that has helped the state attract and keep manufacturing jobs, said Bryan Sunderland, a senior vice president at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
The EPA said the Clean Power Plan would eliminate jobs in the electricity, coal and natural-gas sectors, but create jobs centered on increasing energy efficiency.
The agency projected that electricity rates would initially go up because of the rule but ultimately end up lower than they otherwise would. That was a nationwide estimate, not specific to Kentucky.
Overall, the benefits of the rule — such as fewer heart attacks and asthma attacks — would far outweigh the costs, the EPA said.
The state Energy and Environment Cabinet has not been working on a plan to submit to the EPA, spokesman Dick Brown said.
Instead, the cabinet is preparing a report to give to the administration that will take over after the November election. That new administration will have to decide whether or not to submit a compliance plan to EPA, Brown said.
Members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said it is short-sighted for the state to rely on a strategy of trying to block the EPA mandate in court without working on a compliance plan.
If opponents lose the court fight, Kentucky could get stuck with a plan imposed by the EPA with increased costs and fewer economic benefits, KFTC argued.
"That means our utilities — and our ratepayers, our neighbors and friends — will have to pay penalties for our excess carbon pollution ... which is likely to be very, very expensive for us," said Chris Porter, of Lexington.
The group's goal is to compile ideas for cutting carbon pollution, have one or more professional consulting groups evaluate the costs and benefits, and then finalize what one member called a "people's plan" by next summer and try to line up support for it.
The group calls the project Empower Kentucky.
States would have a number of options under the EPA rule to cut carbon emissions, including greater use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power; switching to natural gas to generate electricity; upgrading power plants; and cutting electricity use through energy-efficiency programs.
KFTC members would like to see a state plan that emphasizes greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, such as weatherizing homes.
The group felt a need to develop a plan because the state has "abdicated" its responsibility. "'Somebody's gotta do this," Wilkins said.