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UPDATE: Power Plant Bill on Governor's Desk

jgooch 300UPDATE: FRANKFORT, Ky. (3/17/14) — A bill that would give Kentucky more input into what works best for fossil fuel power plants within the state has passed the state House, the state Senate and is waiting for Gov. Steve Beshear's signature.

According to state Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, HB 388 would include the state legislature in planning the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric plants under federal Environmental Protection Agency rules.

“We were concerned here in Kentucky that our federal government EPA is trying to make decisions for us about what our energy choices are and what our energy needs are, and that shouldn't be done from Washington,” said Gooch, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Kentucky has been very prudent in using what is available. Coal is our most abundant, reliable and most affordable source for (generating) electricity. We have the second lowest electric utility rates in the nation. Because of that, we've built a very good manufacturing economy that employs a lot of Kentuckians.”

The bill addresses part of an EPA proposal that would apply to only new fossil fuel fired generating units. That rule would require that coal fired units implement carbon capture and carbon storage for a portion of its emissions.

But also, and very importantly, HB 388 would require the state Energy and Environment Cabinet to create a plan for existing coal-fired plants that doesn't force them to switch from coal to other fuels such as natural gas or to require them to capture and store carbon, which is an emission from the coal-burning process.

The Clean Air Act allows states to develop its own plans for emission limits on exisiting pollution sources. However, the EPA must approve the state's plan.

“President Obama has said that he wants the EPA to work with the states on this,” said Gooch.

The process of capturing carbon could use as much as 25 percent of the electricity created by a fossil fuel plant, said Gooch, who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment. That could drive up electricity utility rates beyond what many Kentucky families can afford to pay.

Not only would homeowner utility bills and direct and indirect coal mining jobs be affected, but also the state's manufacturing capabilities, he said.

“People that are in Louisville and Lexington might look at this as an issue that is affecting the coal mining jobs and it's not just that,” said Gooch. “Kentucky is probably the most energy intensive state in the nation. In Kentucky, an average of about 49 percent of our electricity goes to our large industrial customers. The national average is more like 22 to 27 percent. That shows how important that is for those manufacturing jobs.”

Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett said proposed EPA standards would make it hard for any plant to burn coal.

“I think it's important to realize that Kentucky has the second lowest kilowatt per hour (cost) in the nation,” said Bissett. “(Changes) are going to have a tremendous effect on employers and all Kentuckians in how we pay for that electric bill every month.”

Bissett said the federal time table for these EPA changes to go into effect is on a fast track before President Barack Obama goes out of office.

“House Bill 388 clearly defines Kentucky's role in this process,” said Bissett. “This bill clearly states the General Assembly's involvement and that representative leaders like Chairman Gooch have to approve any plan which involves the state. This House Bill is supported by a number of local, state and federal groups. Some are related to the coal industry, and others aren't. Others represent other businesses concerned about changes in Washington affecting what we pay for electricity in Kentucky and putting us at an economic disadvantage.”

Other than the Kentucky Coal Association, other agencies and organizations that have supported HB 388 include the Kentucky Chamber, Kentucky Municipal Utilities Association, Alliance Resource Partners, Alpha Natural Resources, ArchCoal, Charah, Lexington Chamber of Commerce, Crounse Corp., CSX, kyndle, Paducah Chamber of Commerce, Peabody Energy, Henderson Chamber of Commerce, Murray Energy Corporation, Western Kentucky Coal Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Rita Dukes Smith
SurfKY News Director

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