There's not a dime's bit of difference between them. That's the conclusion I draw after reading what Kentucky's two candidates for the U.S. Senate said about the draft carbon pollution regulation of existing power plants recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), called the Clean Power Plan.
Here's what the incumbent and Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had to say:
"Today's announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative Democracy itself."
And here's what Sen. McConnell's Democratic challenger, Kentucky's Secretary of State, Allison Grimes, said:
"When I'm in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the President's attack on Kentucky's coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority."
What do you think? Any daylight between them? Or are they standing together to block out the rays from our country's brighter clean energy future?
I'm guessing that my "not a dime's bit of difference" conclusion is just fine with the Democratic challenger -- it's exactly what she was shooting for: no daylight.
The shadowy truth is, they're both wrong.
And here's another unpleasant truth: I'm especially disappointed in Secretary Grimes.
There's no doubt that Sen. McConnell is one of the most powerful opponents of climate action in our country. Enough said.
But those in favor of strong climate action cannot turn a blind eye to the shortsighted words of Secretary Grimes.
She's wrong, too. And it's time for climate action advocates to stop giving coal-state and oil-patch Democrats a pass for the sake of political expediency. If climate action isn't partisan, then neither can our truth-telling be partisan.
Here's the truth: The words of Secretary Grimes are the opposite of true leadership, fostering false hope for personal political gain, pretending you can "protect" coal industry jobs by attacking a scapegoat, EPA's carbon regulations. Real, genuine concern for Kentucky's workers would work for transitioning Kentucky's economy away from an industry that will continue to shed jobs even without carbon regulations.
Her own state government has been saying this for years, concentrating on energy diversification. This has included efforts on energy efficiency and conservation and capturing carbon and making money off of it. (See for yourself in this video from the University of Kentucky showing how algae that soaks up carbon can be turned into fuels for vehicles, jets or the power plant itself.)
Her own state government provided EPA with a major report on what the best approach would be for Kentucky to meet its obligations, and the EPA Clean Power Plan gave them what they asked for.
Her own state government's proposal had a tougher target than the EPA's Plan does.
Thus, the EPA's Clean Power Plan is quite generous to Kentucky.
But here's the kicker: The EPA can't give Kentucky everything it needs and deserves from our country to meet this new obligation. We're in this together, and we want to be fair to each state in terms of burden-sharing and honest recognition of how other states benefit from Kentucky manufacturing, manufacturing that provides cheaply priced but carbon intense goods to other states. (A key reason they are cheap is because the pollution isn't included in the price; and it is in our national interest not to have such manufacturing move overseas.)
Simply looking at raw numbers, Kentucky has 12,400 coal jobs, but 220,000 in manufacturing. A recent study concluded that "a 25 percent increase in electricity prices would be associated with a net loss of 30,000 full-time jobs, primarily in the manufacturing sector." That's more than double the total of all coal jobs.
It's only fair that a national policy that benefits all of us -- the EPA Clean Power Plan -- not disproportionately impact Kentucky's workers. And so our nation must partner with Kentucky's efforts in energy efficiency and clean energy and carbon capture and utilization (e.g. the algae) to make sure Kentucky manufacturing isn't put at a competitive disadvantage. And these and other efforts must help provide coal workers who need it a smooth transition to well-paying jobs.
But to do this will take more than the EPA's Clean Power Plan, because the agency can't pass laws; it can't make things completely fair between states. Only Congress and the President can do that.
So, Secretary Grimes, instead of painting yourself into a corner and giving away your leverage at the get-go in the carbon policy fight, why not use these very regulations as an opportunity to have the country do the right thing by Kentucky's coal and manufacturing workers?
How could Secretary Grimes have said it differently? How about this:
"I cannot support -- indeed, I must oppose -- EPA's carbon regulations until the country is ready to provide a fair deal to Kentucky's coal and manufacturing workers and communities."
Sounds good to me.
The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.
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