McConnell: EPA rules 'worst blow to Ky. economy in modern times'


by Joe Arnold

Posted on June 2, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 2 at 11:19 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Calling proposed EPA regulations on carbon emissions "the single worst blow to Kentucky's economy in modern times," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Monday he would introduce legislation to try to block the rules, which were announced on Monday.

93 percent of Kentucky's electricity is generated by burning coal, a rate second only to West Virginia.  Coal use, much of it from coal mined in eastern and western Kentucky, is credited with some of the cheapest utility rates in the country.  McConnell said the EPA's goal to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gases and climate change, will diminish that advantage.

"In areas of the country that are dependent on coal for their power generation, this is almost certainly going to be a dramatic increase in rates," McConnell said.  "Everybody knows that.  The people who are advocating this know that. They just don't care."

Though the new standards aim at reducing the national carbon footprint by 30 percent, states like Kentucky that rely heavily on coal won't have to reduce their carbon rates as much.  Kentucky faces an 18 percent reduction by the year 2030.

"The reason we've been calling this a 'War on Coal' is that's exactly what it is," McConnell said, citing the loss of 7,000 coal industry jobs in Kentucky since President Obama took office.

The U.S. Senate Republican Leader's concerns were echoed by most of Kentucky's top Democrats, yet U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth defended the EPA.

"I don't think there is any 'War on Coal' at all," Yarmuth told WHAS11.  "What this is is a realization that the climate is changing, that carbon dioxide emissions have an impact on that, and that the largest source of carbon emissions is from coal-fired power plants."

Though Yarmuth chided McConnell for blocking carbon emission legislation in 2009 he said would have been less painful for Kentucky, he suggested even the new rules aren't that cumbersome because states have been given flexibility how to lower emissions and the 30 percent reduction is based on 2005 carbon levels, rather than 2009 when the economy was slower.

"I think by choosing 2005, they made it much easier for Kentucky to comply," Yarmuth said,  "and I think there is a good chance that there would be virtually no impact on consumers and businesses."

In addition, some utility companies, such as Louisville Gas and Electric, have already begun a shift away from coal by taking advantage of recent advances in capturing natural gas.   After burning high sulfur coal for more than 60 years in Southwest Louisville, LG&E's Cane Run generating plant is being converted to a natural gas facility in 2015.

"It's a good thing that the country is getting energy independent," McConnell responded when asked by WHAS11 about natural gas, "but coal provides 40 percent of our electricity in this country, 40 percent of it.  That's not going to be replaced by any of these alternatives including natural gas."

Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association, added that coal, unlike natural gas, has a proven, reliable supply.

"At a time when the rest of the world is increasing its use of coal in both emerging and traditional economies, we have a President who is going to damage our nation’s economy and the reliability of electricity with his pen because he knows that he cannot get such wrongheaded legislation through Congress," Bissett said.

In a statement, Governor Steve Beshear (D-Kentucky) said he was "extremely concerned that (the EPA proposal) does not provide adequate flexibility or attainable goals."

Calling the EPA’s regulations, overreaching, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging McConnell in the U.S. Senate race, said "President Obama's new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn't working for Kentucky."

"When I'm in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the President's attack on Kentucky's coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority," Grimes said in the statement.

"I'm not surprised that she says that she's pro-coal, what else can she say?" McConnell scoffed.  "She would be ineffectively pro-coal because her election would guarantee that we have a senate that couldn't do anything about this problem."

McConnell said if Grimes was elected, it would guarantee that coal-opponent Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who he predicted would block his planned legislation, would remain majority leader.

"Changing the majority leader of the senate means things like this would get voted on," McConnell said.  "If I were leading the senate right now, we'd be voting on it this week."

The Grimes campaign declined to say whether she supports McConnell's legislation.

"When Alison Lundergan Grimes is in the Senate, Mitch McConnell won't be," said campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton.  "Unlike Sen. McConnell, Alison will work with members of both parties to invest in more clean coal technology and work to rein in the EPA's overburdensome regulations."