Op-Ed

EPA rules underlie move from E. Ky. coal

Anthony “Tony” Campbell
Anthony “Tony” Campbell

The Jan 10. article, “Ky. power plants using more coal from out of state,” described some of the reasons why state power plant owners are purchasing less Eastern Kentucky coal in recent years.

University of Kentucky professor Kenneth Troske is correct when he notes the trend is “driven by basic economics.”

In the past, it made economic sense to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations by paying a little more for Eastern Kentucky coal, which tends to have lower sulfur content, and avoiding the extreme expense of adding scrubbers and other costly emissions-control equipment to power plants.

But the EPA has forced coal-plant owners into a corner in the last decade, effectively requiring the addition of that equipment. As a result, East Kentucky Power Co. has spent nearly $700 million retrofitting its coal-fired plants to keep them compliant with the more stringent regulations, which allow use of less expensive high-sulfur coal.

That cost is being borne by our owners, the 16 electric co-ops that receive the power EKPC generates and, in turn, by their owners, the more-than 1 million Kentuckians who receive their electricity from those co-ops.

As a result, it is as important as ever that EKPC do everything it can to keep rates affordable for co-op members. That means purchasing the coal that meets the environmental and operating specifications of our power plants and is most affordable.

Unfortunately, for reasons discussed in the article, higher-sulfur coal from other regions is much cheaper. Nevertheless, EKPC is able to continue using primarily Eastern Kentucky coal at its power plant near Somerset.

Certainly, EPA regulations are nothing new for power-plant owners. What is new is the speed and volume at which the EPA has targeted coal, with new regulations focusing on carbon dioxide, water discharges, coal ash, mercury, particulates, ozone and more. Short compliance deadlines mean power plant owners must begin making decisions and taking action almost immediately after regulations are finalized.

If the present course is unchanged, the policies of the EPA will spell the end of coal-fired electricity. A pair of regulations targeting carbon dioxide will, ultimately, remove coal as an option for power plants.

One rule targets existing plants and puts extreme pressure on Kentucky to drastically reduce the use of coal. And the other rule for future power plants establishes a threshold of carbon dioxide emissions that is, in practical terms, impossible to achieve.

EKPC is joining states, organizations and utilities across the nation in challenging these so-called Clean Power Plan rules. We believe EPA has seriously over-reached. And we are very concerned about their cost and reliability impacts to the end consumers.

Further, we believe the rules’ implementation schedules should be stayed while legal challenges are ongoing so that utilities don’t spend billions of dollars in the next few years preparing to comply, only to have the regulations changed or overturned by the courts. If you doubt the likelihood of this, simply witness the recent history of the EPA’s mercury air toxics rule which, last summer, was remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court to the lower courts after power-plant owners had already spent billions preparing to comply.

If and when the time comes, EKPC will be forced to comply with all new federal regulations. We understand the big stick the EPA carries in terms of expensive fines and other enforcement actions.

That said, let us turn our attention back to Eastern Kentucky. It is a region that for over a century has fueled America’s prosperity. Generations of its residents have done the hard work necessary to make possible our standard of living today. Now those families face unemployment, mounting bills and a dearth of opportunity.

They deserve better. They deserve a long-term solution from those who have benefited from their hard work.

Our electric cooperatives serve much of Eastern Kentucky. We will do all we can to keep the future bright for our neighbors there.

That is why EKPC and our owner-member cooperatives have been strong supporters of Shaping Our Appalachian Region. We believe it has great potential to harness ideas and channel resources to produce long-term prosperity in the region. EKPC also has worked with partners to establish STEM-based curriculum in schools throughout Eastern Kentucky. An educated workforce is a sustainable resource that will draw high-quality jobs and investment.

Kentuckians inside and outside the region — and across the political spectrum — are supporting the good work that’s ongoing in Eastern Kentucky. But it will take time for these efforts to bear fruit. And people are hurting today. They need jobs now.

We hope the Obama administration and its successor continues to support these efforts, and to provide the resources necessary to maintain the vitality of Eastern Kentucky as the region undergoes the transition that is underway. We owe it to the region.

Anthony “Tony” Campbell is president and CEO of East Kentucky Power Cooperative, based in Winchester.

At issue: Jan. 9 McClatchy article, “Kentucky is buying other states’ coal instead of its own”

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