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Coal-powered Kentucky joins 25-state coalition suing the EPA over emissions rules

Mill Creek Generating Station in Louisville.
Ryan Van Velzer
Mill Creek Generating Station in Louisville.

Kentucky Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman has joined another coalition of red states challenging a new Biden administration anti-pollution rule for power plants.

Kentucky’s attorney general alleges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is exceeding its authority in calling for significant emissions reductions at fossil-fuel power plants across the country.

Kentucky joined a coalition of 24 other attorneys general in asking a federal judge to review the agency’s new rule. In a release, Attorney General Russell Coleman said the new technology would be too expensive.

“Kentucky families and job-creators will be cut off from affordable and reliable energy. We’re fighting this radical green agenda that would only leave Kentucky in the dark,” Coleman said.

All of the attorneys general in the coalition are Republicans and many represent top coal-burning and producing states. The challenge, which is led by West Virginia and Indiana, also included attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

Since assuming the attorney general’s office this year, Coleman has repeatedly sued the Biden administration for its guidelines, many of those suits focusing on attempts to rein in climate change and pollution. In April, a federal district judge in Kentucky ruled against a Biden administration policy requiring states come up with a plan to reduce tailpipe emissions — a multistate challenge which Coleman led.

The EPA said their new power plant guidelines, which encourage new technology and more efficient energy generation, will “significantly reduce” greenhouse gas emissions that fossil-fuel fired power plants create.

Climate scientists say that fossil fuels are largely responsible for global climate change, and humankind must end its reliance on them to avoid further warming.Climate change has made Kentucky warmer and wetter in recent decades, contributing to natural disasters.

Coal-fired power plants make up for more than three-quarters of the emissions produced by the electricity sector although they produce only 40% of U.S. energy generation.

In Kentucky, coal-fired power plants made up 68% of the state's electricity generation in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Coleman called the technology that power plants would likely have to install to meet the new benchmarks “experimental and costly.” One of the main technologies discussed in the rule is carbon capture and sequestration/storage, a technology that has struggled to become cost-effective.

However, that math may have changed after new tax credits were put in place in 2022. Under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, Congress increased existing tax credits to $85 for every ton of carbon dioxide that polluters, like power plants, capture and bury.

In their new rule, the EPA said the incentives for carbon capture and other greenhouse gas reducing technologies are strong enough to make the rule feasible for electricity companies. In 2021, the power sector was one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the U.S., releasing a quarter of all domestic emissions.

The EPA first proposed the historic rule in 2023, marking the agency’s first attempt to control the greenhouse gases that power plants can emit. In April, the agency finally finalized the new rule. The court filing from Republican attorneys general asked the U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C. to declare the rule unlawful and stop its enforcement.

One of Kentucky’s largest power companies, The East Kentucky Power Cooperative, said they believe the new rule could lead to a 96% residential utility bill increase, according to a news release. The cooperative already spent $79,507 this year to successfully lobby for a state law creating more restrictions on the retirement of fossil-fuel electric power units in Kentucky.

Another coalition of 26 Kentucky cooperatives, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, Inc., spent $118,885 lobbying for the same legislation. Meanwhile, for-profit electric utility companies, including Louisville Gas & Electric and Duke Energy, were fighting against the legislation, saying forcing them to keep open underperforming power plants would raise utility costs.

“The EPA’s rule is an assault on the electric reliability Kentucky relies on to keep our communities safe, healthy and prosperous,” said Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.
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