HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/23/12) – Kentucky could be ready to face a huge crisis, due to the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.
The proposed rule has been in the works for years, and has now been approved by the White House after months of review. It will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced. According to the Washington Post, on average, a U.S. based natural gas plant emits 800 to 850 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour and meets that standard. Coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.
"These regulations are unachievable," says State Representative Ben Waide. "Since 1977 we've eliminated 83% percent of the smoke coming out of power plants. You can't eliminate 100%. A brand new power plant is twice as efficient as those built back in 1977. You can burn half the coal for the same amount of electricity. Yet the EPA is bent on punishing coal plants for doing exactly what we want them to do. They provide us with cheap electricity and are environmentally friendly. Clean coal is not just a slogan. We really do produce clean coal."
“I think increased regulation is counterproductive and unnecessary,” says Madisonville Mayor David Jackson. “The level of regulation that we had prior to the Obama administration and Lisa Jackson’s EPA was reasonable. I think what we’ve had since the Obama administration is government overreach, and it’s putting unnecessary pressure on the whole industry.”
When U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with The Chronicle editorial board back in January 2008 in San Francisco, during an interview, he explained his plans for bankrupting the coal industry.
“What I’ve said is that we would put a cap and trade system in place that is as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than anybody else’s out there,” explained Obama. “I was the first to call for a 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gases emitted would be charged to the polluter. That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants that are being built, that they would have to meet the rigors of that market and the ratcheted-down caps that are imposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
“Unfortunately, he has lived up to his word,” pointed out Mayor Jackson. “And through Lisa Jackson, who is the head of the EPA and the Obama administration, we have seen increased regulation to the point of strangling the coal industry.”
Locals generally agree on the fact that, environmentally, it’s a smart idea and that something needs to be done. However, they also agree that these new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions might not be ideal.
“Environmentally, this is the direction the country needs to go in order to start curbing the damage done with these emissions,” says local coal miner Josh Solise. “Even though people will argue that there is a debate on the existence of climate change, I tend to lean to the opinion of the scientific community, and they are in agreement that something has to be done.”
Jake Hildebrant, an Assistant Professor at Madisonville Community College in the Advanced Integrated Technology program agrees.
“Environmentally speaking, yes I think that there should be oversight of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by industry. I think that most will agree that without regulations, many businesses would not be as interested in the triple bottom line; profit, environment, and social impact. The problem with mandates is that it does nothing for industries in other countries that are not regulated, and we breathe the same air as they do. So in essence companies in America are punished and this gives an unfair advantage to industries in countries that are not regulated. I believe that a better solution would be more of a positive reinforcement for companies. Instead of punishing companies with huge fines, why not reward companies who emit less gas with tax breaks, and things along that nature. That would give American companies a better chance at becoming a global competitor, while at the same time encouraging companies to focus on the triple bottom line,” says Hildebrant.
“The fact is that we are cutting back and we’re doing all this ‘cleaning up’ of the air, yet we are shipping all this coal from Australia and America to India and China,” points out Judge Executive Donnie Carroll. “India is building I don’t know how many coal-fired plants at a time over there in a short period of time, because they don’t have the electricity and all the services. You see the same thing with China. So, if this gets into the air and it’s carried over an area, how far does it reach? Does it come back to America? And this time it’s going to affect the west coast more than ever.”
"The U.S. Department of Energy has spent billions of dollars on wind and solar power, and it still only makes up around 4% of the energy we use in America," says Waide. "We're selling coal to China and Germany. The rest of the world understands the importance of the coal industry. Coal is the cheapest source of energy on the planet and we have 150 years worth of it."
What do locals think about the government stepping in to regulate American business in such a way?
“We should have a regulated economy, any economy left completed unchecked is dangerous for everyone,” points out Mayor Jackson. “At the same time, the government left unchecked is equally dangerous.”
“As far as the government goes, I do believe that they have to play a big role in regulation for big businesses,” explains Solise. “You only have to look as far as the banking corruption that exploded due to untethered regulations to see that you have to pull the reins at some point. It may be necessary for the government to look into facilitating the transformation of the plants to save the jobs that are at stake, but Congress seems reluctant to fund business after the stimulus has received so much criticism.”
“I think that if you use common sense judgment, and it really provides something, but the EPA doesn’t stop there,” says Judge Executive Carroll. “They’ve even suggested, in the last few years, regulating farmers and the dust off their crops, dust off our gravel roads. Where does it stop? I guess if you live in Washington DC, and don’t see gravel roads, if you’re not out there seeing farming done, its fine. I think, a lot of times, when you run up on these people who are ‘highly educated’ as far as their field goes, that sometimes, you almost have to get their attention. The way that you get their attention, in my opinion, would be to cut the power off. Let’s be realistic. Where do they think the power comes from?”
“Realistically, using natural resources for the production of energy, or manufacturing, is limited,” says Hildebrant. “It is easy for us to lose sight of this because our reserves are many years from being depleted. The problem is that once these reserves are depleted, then there is no returning. Also as these supplies are closer to becoming depleted, then the more it is going to cost companies to retrieve these resources. Not everyone is in agreement with the government regulating businesses and industry through EPA regulations, but energy independence is something the majority of people agree with. The benefit of becoming energy dependent is that it encourages research and development of alternative forms of energy by demand from the customer, and not from demands of the government. Kentucky is in a difficult position when it comes to harvesting natural resources like wind or solar because we are not in ideal areas for either resource; solar is more feasible than wind. Kentucky needs to use its clean coal resources to manufacture future solutions for our energy needs with the understanding that our resources are limited. We need to position ourselves with technologies like coal gasification and biomass energy production now so that we can be a front runner in energy dependence. Coal will play a vital role in the manufacturing of these solutions no matter the government’s position on its use. We need to invest dollars from coal now into the future of Kentucky, which is our children’s and grandchildren’s Kentucky. This money should be proactive and not retroactive. For those who want to completely do away with coal now I would like to suggest that you go home and disconnect your home from the electric company and try to produce all your energy needs with renewable energy. Once you realize the magnitude of equipment needed to do this maybe you’ll understand the resources needed to produce this electricity nation-wide to industry and residents alike. There is currently no replacement for coal or even nuclear because more than 45% of America’s energy is produced from coal and about 20% comes from nuclear. Truly if any of these forms of energy production goes away in the near future then our country will be economically and socially devastated. Renewables are our future at some point, but we have a long way to go, but this should not stop us from preparing now.”
Economically, what these new gas emissions might mean for the City of Madisonville and the state of Kentucky appear quite frightening.
“If I understand it right, the regulations would put new coal-firing plants in peril for fear of an inability to meet the new standards,” explained Solise. “The existing plants would be in a position to shut down rather than implement the new technology that would be necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The jobs that are tied to the mines would be in serious jeopardy as well, so a widespread loss of jobs and middle-class spending would be imminent. Among the states, Kentucky ranks third in coal production, and so it is easy to imagine that any legislature to stymie emissions will affect the state economy in a negative way. In our county specifically, we have several active mines, and these mines all offer well-paying jobs. If these regulations were to cause any of the mines to close due to loss of market, the effects would be pretty dramatic. The middle-class in our area is in full bloom with these jobs, and we can see nationally what happens when the middle-class worker is hurting. Needless to say, the money in these miners' pockets would no longer land in the registers of local businesses, and so the effects would be widespread to the local economy.”
“It’s not just the coal,” explained Judge Executive Carroll. “For instance, you’ve got Smiley Construction Company, which does a lot of work on coal mine property. You’ve got Jennmar, which makes bids on mine bolts and such. You’ve got so many different entities out here that rely on the coal industry. If coal plays out then those jobs are gone. It doesn’t just affect a coal miner losing their job; it’s the person that supplies that coal mine, so he can do his job. You’re talking about a whole bunch of money, besides the support they give. They give to Hunter Field in Hanson, and local cheerleading squads. They are involved in just about anything in the community if you approach them. We’ve been very fortunate that all the mines have really helped in our county, and they don’t ask much from us. There are over 1,100 employees in our four local mines. There are over 600 families that live in Hopkins County out of that 1,100, and over 300 live in the city of Madisonville. So when you start putting figures together. These miners are making on average $75,500 a year, and that doesn’t include overtime work or benefits. So when you start adding all that up, a lot of money flows through Hopkins County thanks to the coal industry.”
“The regulation of greenhouse gases has never considered the economic impact of businesses, but rather the environmental impact,” points out Hildebrant. “This is true especially in the power industry where, because of strict regulations, power plants are forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for pollution control equipment like scrubbers and SCRs. If the government mandates that power industries must upgrade their equipment, without investing public dollars into the company’s infrastructure, then industry and residents of Kentucky will pay the price. Many businesses are on the cusp of losing money and would be forced to relocate to other areas with cheaper power, sometimes overseas. This would result in two things; loss of jobs for thousands of Kentucky residents, and it would create an unstable environment for new businesses to locate in the commonwealth.”
“If they continue to pressure coal-fired power plants to shut down, it will definitely hurt Kentucky’s economy,” says Mayor Jackson.
“As a whole, I think that the situation may be grim on a short-term basis, as far as local economy,” said Solise. “If in fact the coal-fired plants go down, then the dominoes will begin to fall as well. The optimist in me says that America should foster the changes to these facilities to stop the bleeding, and in fact would create the jobs needed to make the updates. We had the technology to reach the moon in the 1960's, and I believe that we could meet these standards in the near future without taking such an economical hit. The problem would be getting the financial assistance necessary to keep the plants and mines alive through the process of updating the way we burn coal. The realist in me says that this whole situation will be fought tooth and nail in Washington between environmentalists and the coal industry, and that nothing much will change. The country depends on coal for about forty percent of its electricity, and I think there might be some clamor if we can't make up for it immediately. Americans are massive consumers, and I don't think anyone wants to have their bills go up, or to turn the air conditioner off.”
State Representative Waide will be testifying at the EPA hearings in Frankfort on June the 5th, as they have been holding up permits needed by Kentucky coal mines. The hearings were requested over a year and a half ago, and citizens are just now getting a chance to discuss the matter with the EPA.
"We are going to see if we can't strike some reasonable chord with these people," says Waide. "They are out to destroy the coal industry and it makes no sense. Their job is to protect the public and the environment. We are the public."
“I think that the federal government should have the power to regulate air and water quality,” stated Ron Sanders, past President of Emerald Energy Corporation, with over 25 years of experience in the coal industry. “These regulations, monitoring and enforcement must be within federal laws, scientifically provable and balanced with the needs of the economy. I believe the current EPA has failed in every metric listed above.”
“My family's future depends on the job I have at the mine, so what happens to my particular hole in the ground will mold what happens to our future,” explained Solise. “The loss of even one mining operation will add many resumes to the area, and make getting a job at a mine even more difficult than it has been. Unfortunately for most miners, there may not be a backup plan, and I fear for them.”
Copyright © 2012 SurfKY News Group, Inc. all rights reserved. SurfKY.com is an eNewspaper providing local news FREE to Kentucky 24/7. Read Statewide Kentucky News, Sports, Obituaries and more from the following Kentucky Counties: Calloway, Christian, Daviess, Fayette (Lexington), Henderson, Hopkins, Logan, McCracken, Muhlenberg, Warren, and Webster Counties as well as the Kentucky Lakes Area.
|< Prev||Next >|