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.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.
“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 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.