TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

June 5, 2014

Legislative leaders blast carbon regs

CORBIN — By RONNIE ELLIS
 / CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT President Barack Obama’s efforts to rein in carbon emissions, blamed by science for changes in the climate, continues to draw harsh criticism from both political parties in Kentucky.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called new regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 “a dumb-ass policy – and you can quote me on that.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, standing next to Stumbo smiled broadly and agreed.

“There’s one thing the speaker and I agree on – dumb-ass policy,” Stivers said. “But I didn’t endorse (Obama) as the speaker did.”

The new regulations announced Monday assign various reduction goals to states and allow states to develop their own plans for meeting those goals. Targets for coal-dependent states like Kentucky and West Virginia were set at lower levels because of those states’ “individual circumstances,” according to senior officials of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stumbo conceded the new regulations could have been harder on the coal industry and Kentucky, but that didn’t change his opinion of them.

“It could’ve been worse,” he said. “But the problem is a global problem and why solve it on the backs of American citizens?” He pointed to the emerging economies in China (the world’s largest carbon polluter – the U.S. is second) and India.

The proposed regulations won’t become effective for at least a couple of years. First they must go through a public comment period, finalization by the EPA and survive both legislative and court challenges.

Stivers and Stumbo predicted years of legal challenges, and Stumbo seemed near endorsing a bill sponsored by Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to require certification the new rules won’t cost jobs, raise electrical rates or hurt the economy before implementation. (The bill isn’t expected to go anywhere in the Senate controlled by a majority of Democrats.)

“I don’t think that’s the type of decision that the executive ought to make,” Stumbo said. “It’s a legislative decision.”

Obama is implementing the rules by executive order after Congress refused to act on proposals to address climate change. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the EPA not only has the authority but also an obligation to act to limit pollutants which pose health hazards under legislation previously enacted by Congress.

A September 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 65 percent of Americans favor stricter emissions limits on power plants – the largest source of carbon emissions. The survey found 74 percent of Democrats; 67 percent of independents; and 52 percent of Republicans favored stricter emissions. (http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/climate-change-key-data-points-from-pew-research). But that doesn’t reflect sentiment in coal-producing states like Kentucky.

The regulations are a burning issue in McConnell’s re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes and both have delivered full-throated denunciations of the rules and support for Kentucky’s declining coal industry. Stumbo is a Grimes ally.

Asked if he was endorsing McConnell’s bill, Stumbo said he hadn’t read it.

“But I can say this,” he went on. “This total demise (of the coal industry) has happened on his watch. If I had been United States senator, I would’ve made a deal with the president.”

Stivers said the new rules will effectively shut down Kentucky coal operations.

“It would be extremely hard for individuals who are involved in the coal industry to continue to have much chance or hope of continuing to operate,” said Stivers.

Stumbo said he didn’t think the policies in Kentucky will be a deciding factor in the Senate race. Stivers disagreed.

“I think it’s very difficult not being tied to the president through his party,” said Stivers, recalling Democrats’ use of Republican President George W. Bush against the GOP in 2008 elections.

On General Assembly business, the two legislative leaders said a study of the Legislative Research Commission’s staffing and personnel policies is nearing completion.

They said there’s been no move to employ a permanent LRC Director. (LRC Director Robert “Bobby” Sherman resigned last fall in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against a lawmaker who also subsequently resigned. Marcia Seiler, head of the Office of Education Accountability is serving as interim LRC Director.)

Stumbo said legislative leaders will begin a search for a permanent director once it sees the recommendations of the audit being performed by the National Conference of State Legislators.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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