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Coal operation in Virgie, Kentucky.
In Kentucky, 92 percent of the electricity is generated by 56 coal-fired power plants, a few of them practically antiques. That's the largest percentage in the nation. Kentucky generates more carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity from all sources than any other state. That's why so many Kentuckians view with alarm the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed limits on those emissions. They see jobs being lost and expect electricity prices to rise as some of the oldest coal-burners are shut down.

The reality, as Trip Gabriel at The New York Times wrote over the weekend, is that the flexibility the EPA carved into its complex emissions rule that gives states wide latitude in how they comply means that Kentucky doesn't have such a rough path ahead. The EPA wants the state to reduce its emissions just 18 percent over the 2005 base year by 2030. The impact of that on jobs versus the impact of other factors in the energy business is likely to be small.

Like other states, Kentucky can meet the emissions reduction goal set for it by adding renewable sources of power, pushing conservation measures such as weatherization, encouraging use of more efficient appliances and switching to natural gas, which at the power plant emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal to generate the same amount of electricity:

Representative John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, said Kentucky had already been moving toward a future less reliant on coal because of competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas.

“If you add all the numbers up, we can probably comply with the terms of the rule with very little impact, if any, because everybody’s heading in that direction to begin with,” he said. “Anybody who’s actually looked at the subject understands coal is going to play a dramatically reduced role in our nation’s energy portfolio.”

There is no doubt, however, that there will be a negative impact on local jobs when a coal plant shuts down, just as there has been when coal operations go for more automation or fold up because of the shift to natural gas. In fact, coal jobs in Kentucky are at their lowest level since the state started tracking them in 1927. In 2012 alone, 4,000 coal workers were laid off in eastern Kentucky. As of last July, there only remained an estimated 12,432 coal and coal-related jobs in the state. That figure is now down to about 11,600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, about 0.6 percent of the state's workforce. Directly and indirectly, coal operations generate about 3 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

There is more to read below the orange tailings pile.

The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development's five-year-old report, The Impact of Coal on the Kentucky State Budget, states:

A review of coal industry-generated revenues to the state and expenditures from the state suggests that the industry actually costs more than it brings to the state. Using state budget and other official state agency data, we estimate the coal industry generated revenues of $303 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. In the same year, on-budget spending to support coal industry activities totals more than $270 million and off-budget tax expenditures add $85 million to the coal industry’s bill for a total of more than $355 million. The net direct impact of the industry on the state budget for FY 2006 is an estimated –$52 million."
Although MACED hasn't updated that report, the association's energy programs manager, Jason Coomes, told Daily Kos that the basic assessment remains the same. Coal operations still cost Kentucky government more than they deliver in revenue.

In other words, King Coal has moved so far from its juggernaut role of 50 or 75 years ago in Kentucky that it is no longer a powerhouse in state economics, it's a drag on them. State government, purely on economic grounds, would be better off without those coal jobs. But that is scarcely a fact to soothe the individual who loses his paycheck, as so many thousands of Kentucky coal workers have.

Kentucky—indeed, every state in the union—would be wise to take the announcement of the modest EPA emissions rule as an opportunity to help create new jobs not dependent on fossil fuels. That is, in fact, MACED's major mission. And in the past couple of years, there has been some high-level talks in how to make this happen.

Doing so, however, depends on upfront investment. In poor states like Kentucky that's not so easy to attract. Dilapidated and obsolete infrastructure adds to the problem. If we had a Congress actually in tune with what is required to deal with climate change, EPA rules—far stronger than the one the agency has just announced—would be combined with everything from infrastructure upgrades to bigger and better-tailored renewable subsidies to make the transition away from fossil fuels an even bigger boon, not just for the climate but for the jobs and the economy overall. Some of this will happen on its own, but government can help speed up the transition and to shape its direction so people in the bottom tiers don't get left out.

We don't have such a Congress, of course. Far from it. But every time the issue of taking action on climate change comes up, the opportunities for rebuilding and innovating our economic system is what progressive candidates and incumbents alike ought to be relentlessly proclaiming.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 11:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, EcoJustice, Daily Kos Labor, Daily Kos Economics, My Old Kentucky Kos, Climate Change SOS, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The coal thing is weird (19+ / 0-)

    My parents live in western Kentucky, right on the Illinois border. Neither they nor any of their neighbors or acquaintances know anyone who works for the coal industry. And yet whenever I've visited, that's one of the only things they all want to talk about, folks losing jobs in the coal industry. It's like they all think someone they know is going to lose a job if the EPA emissions rules are adhered to in that state. It's as if, in their minds, the coal industry is the true identity of their state.

    And it's why my parent's neighbors support McConnell. They all love their new health insurance a lot, but the idea that someone somewhere in the state might lose a job in the coal industry weighs more heavily on their minds. I wish I knew a way to counteract that.

    Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

    by moviemeister76 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:29:36 PM PDT

    •  replace mines with above ground turbine (11+ / 0-)

      factories, has to be better than defending lives spent underground, bent over breathing coal dust

      "The poor can never be made to suffer enough." Jimmy Breslin

      by merrywidow on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:37:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It probably wouldn't change their minds... (18+ / 0-)

      ...but what Krugman wrote this morning is spot on:

      The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost. (emphasis added)
      Mountain Top Removal - a business decision made by the Kentucky Coal Barons - is bigger factor in the loss of Kentucky coal employment over the past decades than any collection of EPA regulations.

      Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:20:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah, I hear that a lot. (9+ / 0-)

      I live in Kentucky. My usual argument is to point out that such job losses are inevitable. That its better to do so slowly, while we still hav ethe resources to do so. It would hurt a whole lot less than the sudden halt that could occur, either from a lack of natural resources or the failures of some of those very old, overworked coal plants.

      A lot of the republicans I know here are actually level headed, and I've convinced more than a couple. But I'm not sure that will have any effect.

      Still, I have to try.

      No light, no dark, no up, no down. No life. No time. Without end. My people called it The Void. The Eternals called it The Howling. But some people call it The Tea Party.

      by kamrom on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 04:52:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My mom argues the same (5+ / 0-)

        My mom can't stand McConnell and keeps voting against him, but she knows she's in the minority. She knows those jobs aren't coming back. But she tells me it's like talking into the wind trying to convince some folks around her.

        On the other hand, I think folks outside Kentucky would be pretty surprised if they actually met the folks I've met. Many of them are quite progressive in what they actually believe. They just don't think what they want will come to pass.

        Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

        by moviemeister76 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 05:07:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Plenty of Kentuckians know coal is a dead end (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          moviemeister76, BMScott, hbk

          I agree, moviemeister, but I also know a lot of Kentuckians that do think that the a more positive future will come to pass. It's frustrating that all of the things the administration is doing to reduce East Kentucky's reliance on coal jobs get so little coverage outside the region and so little support from legislators inside the region. For instance:


          There's a long way to go to replace 4,000 mining jobs, but what Kentuckians need are leaders like the President that are actually trying to do that - not another grandstanding session by the likes of McConnell.

          •  Oh thanks for the links (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Gonna share these with my mom so she can share them with her neighbors. I really appreciate it.

            Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

            by moviemeister76 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:47:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  The coal thing.. (7+ / 0-)

      Hello moviemeister76,
      Not too long ago, I listened to an interview of a Kentuckian farmer who has turned his farm into a wind park. Many of his fellow farmers are thinking on the same line. If this would indeed materialize on a large scale, it would create jobs. The problem the farmers are facing is the influence of the Koch brothers. Maybe you could look into it and counteract the 'coal mindset' that way. I personally know that such projects are highly successful in Germany. Many  farmers have indeed wind parks as well as solar parks and are selling the energy instead of laboring on hog farms. I know that it may be difficult for the mature generation to think in terms of renewable energy. It's much better for the environment as well as personal health. I am surprised to read that your parents' neighbors are supporting McConnell. Not good for Kentuckians, in my opinion. I am in the same boat, though, living in Texas.

      •  That's awesome! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sean Robertson, kfunk937, BMScott, hbk

        But I wonder how many farmers are even left in Kentucky, in terms of just small farms, I mean. Kentucky has changed so much since I spent my childhood summers there. Almost everyone I knew was a farmer.  In the past decade, all the farmers I knew got too old to farm, and none of their offspring wished to carry on the business, so they sold the farms to essentially corporate farmers. I don't even recognize the farmland I used to walk through.

        On the other hand, even if it is just the large corporate farmers putting wind turbines on their farms, that would actually be of great benefit to Kentuckians.

        Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

        by moviemeister76 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 05:17:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know some small farmers in KY (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          moviemeister76, BMScott

          Some of my relatives live in rural Meade County, and there are still some small farmers.  In fact, approximately 50% of the state is classified as rural.

          As to answer the great burning question of why Kentuckians are so gaga over 12,000 coal mining jobs, I'm not entirely sure, but I may have a theory to explain it.  

          I grew up in KY.  Granted, it was in the suburbs of Louisville, but, as I said, my Mom's family still live in Meade County.  And I would end up going to see my relatives there.  I also went to see an aunt on my Dad's side in rural Marion County, where my Dad's family resided.

          Anyway, when I was growing up, the Kentucky state government or the coal companies - I'm not sure which - used to run ads on TV about the good things that coal does for Kentucky.  One of the things they claimed was it kept our energy costs low and helped with the state's tax revenues.  In a poor state, this message probably resonated with the voters.

          I suppose it is similar to the oil companies in Texas during the hey days of the 70s and up to the mid 80s.  I remember hearing from folks in Texas that the state government was awash in revenues from the oil industry.  Whether that was true or not, I don't know.

          So I think Kentuckians equate coal with power, quite literally.  Coal supplies our electricity and way of life, or so the coal companies told everyone in Kentucky.  Never mind all the environmental harm caused by the coal industry or the real story on state tax revenues, coal is tied to a standard of living in the minds of Kentuckians.  To not be for coal is to tell Kentuckians, "Things have to get worse for you economically."

          •  Oh hey (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Meade County. Isn't that near Ft. Knox? We used to drive through there every summer since the better theaters (or any open theaters half the time) were always closer to Louisville.

            I did not know that about the commercials. I wonder if West Virginians had the same type of commercials. That probably explains why the association with coal seems to be strongest among the older folks I meet. The younger ones I know don't really care too much about coal at all since there's no coal plant near where they live that's hiring.

            Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

            by moviemeister76 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:20:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That is correct (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              moviemeister76, BMScott

              About Fort Knox.

              And the coal companies may have run similar TV commercials in West Virginia.  I don't know.  But I do specifically remember the TV commercials in Kentucky, even after all these years.  So I guess they must have been effective with the older generation.

          •  I know small farmers... (0+ / 0-)

            Hi Merlin 1963...Lots of fracking in Texas now. So much that in some areas the water hoses literally catch on fire and in other areas (Pandhandle) hundreds of small earthquakes...all thanks to our oops governor. Whenever I look outside, I see nothing but sunshine. Well, most of the time. The sun is free and so is the wind (of which we have plenty in my area). Utter stupidity for the state not to invest in large scale wind and solar parks. In my home country, Germany, it is mandatory in some states (Bundesland) that new homes must have enough solar panels for hot water needs. Why not here?

        •  Kentucky farmers (0+ / 0-)

          That's true. They are all looking to invest in other in Germany and, actually, in Kansas...wind parks springing up all over the place...a real night mare for the Koch brothers. I am loving it!

      •  Kentucky's wind potential is generally not (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        very good, and it's particularly pathetic in eastern KY, right where it's needed most, although there might be areas along ridgetops that are locally better:
        The solar potential isn't too bad

        One thing that might help the coal-mining area of eastern Kentucky is microhydro power.  This diverts part of the content of a stream rather than damming the whole thing.

        "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

        by Calamity Jean on Sun Jun 15, 2014 at 10:44:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Obviously the current Coal Barons of KY... (6+ / 0-)

    ...will assert they are the economic engine without which the Commonwealth would be utterly destitute...or something.

    Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:34:02 PM PDT

  •  People should ask why they can't eat the fish (6+ / 0-)

    in the rivers, or keep it to a minimum because of the mercury, but instead we ask how much is safe for my kids when we should say WHY THE F-K can't we eat the fish???

    "The poor can never be made to suffer enough." Jimmy Breslin

    by merrywidow on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:36:42 PM PDT

  •  I talked to my friend at EPA yesterday (15+ / 0-)

    and he pretty much confirmed what you're writing, MB. That is, the new ruling is so flexibly crafted that each state can find compliance in multiple ways and through measures that work best given their own existing conditions. It's basically a very level-headed approach far from the kind of radical intrusions conservatives (predictably) make it out to be. In fact, personally I'd love to see a little more pressure for more fundamental shifts, but for now I'm happy about this, for it sets the stage not only for further reductions and shifts down the road nationally, but it will and already is having positive effects on international actions.

    Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

    by citisven on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:59:24 PM PDT

  •  92% of Kentucky's electricity from coal? (7+ / 0-)

    I never looked at that before. I lazily assumed that TVA water projects supplied Kentucky with 15+% of electricity.

    Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:36:49 PM PDT

  •  Mainly BS Hysteria From McTurtle and Company. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades

    The biggest thing is although not many people work in it like the 70's, it is one of the only good paying jobs in the mountains. It might have been helpful to have had a jobs redirection before really publicizing coal cutbacks.

  •  If Ashley Judd were the Senate nominee (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, willyr, Eric Nelson

    in Kentucky, as was talked about, at least we'd be having a conversation about the future of the state and mountaintop removal mining. Instead, we have a weak-kneed Senate nominee who doesn't understand that you can't out-fossil-fuel a Republican. It doesn't work. Well, I'm sure Kentucky Democrats will do fine without my help this year.

  •  We lost nearly that many people from KSC (0+ / 0-)

    KSC lost nearly that many people after the Shuttle Program was shutdown, yet I did not hear the Kentucky tears. The entire nation lost ten times that in contractor/suppliers and not much more than a peep fell. 12K people losing jobs is BAD when it happens to one county in a state. Butthurt to the Coal Barons is what the real tears are falling for.

  •  Yay for DK original reporting: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    Some may not have caught this, but I did:

    Although MACED hasn't updated that report, the association's energy programs manager, Jason Coomes, told Daily Kos that the basic assessment remains the same
    I wonder who this "Daily Kos" guy is who actually, you know, investigates stuff....

    Somebody with a background in journalism I bet.


    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 05:05:17 PM PDT

  •  It's not the epa rules that should make people mad (0+ / 0-)

    It's mountaintop mining. It's downright evil to let them do that to the earth.

  •  Wouldn't (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Wouldn't a state rather be in Kentucky's position than to have no coal plants?   Much more low-lying fruit to accomplish the 30% reduction.

    •  I can't decide if this is incredibly naive (0+ / 0-)

      or wonderfully subtle chicanery...

      "Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee.

      by jm214 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 06:52:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  No (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One could imagine a set of rules which said "get your emissions down to x/GW" to each state. KY, then, would be in the worst position.

      One could also imagine a set of rules which said "starting in 2014 cut your emissions by x%". CA would completely hate that because it's already been pushing a strong renewables standard, ZEV requirements, conservation standards, and so on - CA would obviously prefer 2005. Or earlier.

      Presumably they were looking for a combination that would lead most states to say "yeah, we can do that".

  •  I went to work underground... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, 6412093 1973. In Illinois, at that time, I remember hearing that we had 12,000 UMWA miners working. The union guys were sorta worried, because that was way down from 16,000 not too many years previous.

       Now, I'm not sure how many union mines are left, but it's not very many... Most of you good people here would enjoy the heck out of talking politics with your average UMWA miner. Hard-core Democrats, mainly, with a few nuts thrown in for "seasoning." :) They are, day in, day out, Progressives... Open-minded, decent, hard-working people. There are quite a few of us pensioners still kicking...

       Stay safe brothers and sisters!

    Best, HH99

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 07:13:26 PM PDT

  •  Some states will see... (0+ / 0-)

    these rules as not tough to comply with:

    In 2005, total CO2 emissions from the electric power sector were 2,416 million metric tons. That’s the second-highest on record. Since then, a combination of energy efficiency, a broad switch from coal to natural gas, plus the economic downturn, have brought emissions down significantly.

    By 2012, power plants carbon emissions had fallen to 2,034 million metric tons, 15 percent lower than in 2005. That means U.S. utilities have already “achieved” half the reductions they need to reach by 2030, without the threat of a federal mandate.

    Kentucky already has in its plans (long before this announcement) to retire or convert to natural gas about 4 GW of its existing coal power plants. This is around 25% of their coal GW power today. They can likely meet their target with no renewable or efficiency improvements.  In fact, they are actually allowed an increase in emissions from where they are today:
    Some of the apparent winners under the proposed EPA regulations are also some of the most coal-heavy states such as West Virginia and Kentucky. Kentucky is allowed a modest rise of 4% in emissions by 2030, according to the Bloomberg analysis.
    Stunningly, Texas which has 23% of its power produced by non-Fossil fuels (wind and solar 11%, nuclear 12%) will be required to do some serious planning:
    The plan calls for Texas to cut power plant emissions by 44% and Louisiana by 68%, according to the Bloomberg analysis.
    The good news for Texas is that a lot of wind will be coming online (10 GW) over the next few years, but why West Virginia and Kentucky got off so easily is perplexing.
  •  Are there provisions for retraining (0+ / 0-)

    of displaced coal mining or power plant workers? I ain't read about any.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 10:16:20 PM PDT

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