KRC Participates In Panel Discussion On EPA's Clean Power Plan At Governor's Conference On The Environment Posted: September 10, 2015
PANEL DISCUSSION AT GOVERNOR'S CONFERENCE ON THE ENVIRONMENT
The Clean Power Plan And Kentucky's Response
Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council
September 9, 2015, Lexington Kentucky
Let me begin by explaining the Council's perspective, so that you can ignore anything else I have to say. KRC provides legal and technical assistance for people living at the crossroads of environmental pollution and poverty, since many of our clients are low- and fixed-income individuals, community organizations, and small local governments. We are acutely aware of the disproportionate adverse impact of energy insecurity and rising electricity bills on the population that we serve, and we are also keenly aware of the potential effects of rising electricity costs on those major industries that we have attracted to the Commonwealth because of historically underpriced electricity, aluminum, steel, and automotive manufacturing.
We have known that this day of reckoning would come for some time. We have been "cooking the books" on electricity generation for so long, treating environmental and public health costs as "externalities" in our process of determining how to meet electricity needs, and facing those costs only after they become regulated, at which time internalizing and addressing the environmental and health costs ends up as far more expensive than had we had the foresight to address the impacts when making our energy choices.
I am currently reading three books that are on my "book-it" list: E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life, Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home, and the final EPA rule on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines For Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units or the Clean Power Plan, as it is commonly called.
It is Wilson who explains our seeming indifference to the health of our planet, and our unwillingness to date to come to terms with actions needed to protect it, as being a part of our human nature:
"The relative indifference to the environment springs, I believe, from deep within human nature. The human brain evidently evolved to commit itself emotionally only to a small piece of geography, a limited band of kinsmen, and two or three generations into the future. To look neither far ahead nor far afield is elemental in a Darwinian sense. We are innately inclined to ignore any distant possibility not yet requiring examination. It is, people say, just good common sense. Why do they think this short-sighted way? The reason is simple: it is a hard-wired part of our Paleolithic heritage. For hundreds of millennia those who worked for short-term gain within a small circle of relatives and friends lived longer and left more offspring even when their collective striving caused their chiefdoms and empires to crumble around them. The long view that might have saved their distant descendants required a vision and extended altruism instinctively difficult to marshal."
And it Francis who provides the moral framework within which we must acknowledge our responsibility to act now and decisively to address climate change rather than to kick the can down to the future generations whom we have already burdened greatly with so much economic and ecologic debt.
In the fourth-poorest state in the Union, and with a daunting task before us of reducing carbon intensity from the electricity sector to a level half again what the schedule plant retirements and upgrades will provide, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to utilize every available means and all of the flexibility that the final Clean Power Plan offers to craft the most cost-effective and equitable plan that we can for the Commonwealth. While it may make for good short-term politics to stand in defiance of EPA and to rattle the saber against developing a state-lead plan, it is both foolish and reckless from an economic and social, as well as environmental, standpoint not to craft a state-lead plan and to avail ourselves of the time needed to do so. We have the opportunity to work collaboratively across the economic sectors, across the political spectrum, and across interest groups from industrial utility customers to low income advocacy groups, from retirees to working families, from advocates for renewables to energy-efficiency advocates, to find the most effective and efficient strategies that will bring our electricity generation and consumption in line with our ecological budget.
And we need to do more than that. We need to couple our generation planning with measures to encourage major electricity-consuming industries to remain in Kentucky, including evaluating incentives and supporting a better-educated workforce. We need to help our most vulnerable ratepayers to adapt to utility costs that more fully reflect climate and other environmental and health costs, by empowering those consumers to better control their energy needs and costs. We need to reinstate a program like the Kentucky Home Energy Performance program to couple skilled and semi-skilled workers in need of employment, with homes in need of energy efficiency measures, utilizing community colleges to help teach energy auditing and energy performance improvement skills. And we need to prioritize those areas of greatest need both in terms of at-risk ratepayers and highest unemployment. The coalfields of eastern Kentucky are the place to begin, since a disproportionate impact is being felt by families and communities most directly affected by the necessary incorporation of ecological and health costs into the price of electricity. There is a debt of honor to be paid, and such a program would be a downpayment on that debt.
Finally, we need to increase incentives for private investment in renewables, since the Clean Power Plan significantly increases the opportunity to diversify the current electricity portfolio to include wind, hydro, solar, and qualified biomass as a component of meeting mass or rate-based carbon reduction targets. We need to expand net metering opportunities as well.
It is time to rise to the occasion collaboratively and creatively to meet, rather than dodge, the ecological challenge of our generation. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this panel today.
Thank you for your interest in Kentucky's environmental and public health. Individual contributions from donors across the Commonwealth make it possible for KRC to do its work every day, including advancing environmental, energy, and public health policies in Kentucky.