The Obama administration moved the goal posts on Kentucky and 15 other states this week when it unveiled the final version of a first-ever rule to control heat-trapping emissions from power plants.
Under an earlier draft, Kentucky could have met the first deadline for carbon reductions by barely breaking a sweat.
Gov. Steve Beshear and others are understandably disappointed and concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring steeper cuts — 32 percent versus 18 percent — than it initially proposed last year.
They fear the cost of cleaner power will negate the advantage of cheap electricity for the state's manufacturers, costing jobs and burdening consumers.
Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, his Republican opponent for governor Matt Bevin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all are vowing to fight the rule.
But, even if they score some tactical victories, theirs is a fight that ultimately cannot be won. As the effects of climate change — droughts, floods, fires, famines and extinctions —intensify, so will the demands to do something about it.
States that resist, obstruct and refuse to change their energy mixes will be targets of public anger and punitive regulations — not the sympathy that many now feel for displaced coal miners.
In unveiling the new rule to combat climate change, President Barack Obama renewed his plea for support for pumping $1 billion-plus into Kentucky and West Virginia over the next five years to spur jobs-creation, including putting people to work repairing environmental damage from a century of mining.
Critics, Obama said, will "claim this plan is a 'war on coal,' to scare up votes — even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs.
"Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades. I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football."
The EPA's rationale for making the rule more stringent than first proposed is that the cost of solar power has dropped and states that can't make their own clean power can buy it from others. While the targets are tougher, the final rule gives states more time to comply.
Even without the new rule, coal industry jobs are not coming back to Eastern Kentucky. The costs of mining depleted reserves are too high to compete with coal from outside Appalachia or natural gas.
Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters should continue to push the Obama administration on behalf of consumers and Kentuckians employed in manufacturing.
But, just as Eastern Kentucky should have been diversifying its job mix, the state has dragged its feet on diversifying its energy mix. Investing in a clean-energy future will yield far more dividends and jobs for Kentuckians than trying to cling to the past.