As most of us understand, Kentucky’s economy is powered by coal. The low-cost, reliable electricity that coal provides our commonwealth benefits every Kentuckian. Coal gives us a huge competitive advantage over other states that pay more for electricity and allows us to keep and attract good jobs. As it interconnects with every facet of our lives, what we pay for electricity has a direct impact, not only on our personal budgets but also on every other aspect of 21st-century society.
Unfortunately, President Barack Obama, his administration and their allies have a different opinion about Kentucky coal than the one held by the vast majority of Kentuckians.
In concert with anti-coal activist groups and, in most cases, against the will of Congress, the current occupant of the White House has damaged both the production and use of coal through overregulation, at times exceeding his legal authority. Now, with less than 200 days left in the Obama administration, his bureaucrats are hoping to finish the job of stopping Kentucky coal production with their so-called Stream Protection Rule (SPR).
If the SPR is ever enacted, it will put tens of thousands of coal miners out of work across the nation – in addition to the more than 67,000 who have lost their jobs since 2011. Countless more livelihoods will be damaged or lost that rely on coal production.
Beyond the coalfields, Kentuckians will pay more for electricity, and utilities will face additional pressure to use more expensive and less reliable fuel for electricity production.
As my counterparts in other states have said, if there was a poster child for needless, costly and poorly conceived regulation, the SPR would certainly qualify. This 2,300-page regulatory behemoth might sound good from its title, but as is often the case in Washington, a name rarely reflects something’s actual nature.
What I find most interesting is that Kentucky’s Democrats and Republicans alike have greatly criticized the SPR. While the Republican Bevin administration is fighting on every front to make sure the SPR does not occur – to avoid saddling taxpayers with an unfunded mandate and robbing them of state sovereignty – the SPR is also in the crosshairs of Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear. For the same reasons, he is also joining with other coal state AGs to push back on this wrongheaded rule. I would add that we saw the same anti-SPR position from the previous Democratic governor and attorney general in Kentucky as well.
Opponents of coal mining suggest that it is only “market forces” that are destroying coal jobs and eroding our ability to produce electricity in a low-cost and reliable way. But they steer clear of the reasons why our coal market is where it currently is.
The Obama administration has damaged our ability to produce and sell coal, which damages our market in two ways. First, by making our product more costly to produce and, second, by forcing electric utilities to choose other fuel sources due to regulatory and political pressure. Most insidious is there is a de facto ban on the ability to build new coal-fired power plants due to emission limits set by the Obama administration that current technology cannot meet, which causes our steam coal market to contract in the future. As our aging coal fleet retires, no new coal plants will come online, and that will cost Kentucky coal jobs, tax revenue and the economic advantage of coal-fired electricity.
If you care about the economy of Kentucky, if you care about our Kentucky coalfields, and if you care what you pay for electricity in Kentucky, then you need to stand against the SPR.
Bill Bissett is president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
- On July 11, 2016