LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Political leaders from coal-rich Kentucky were quick to denounce President Barack Obama's climate change initiatives on Tuesday, saying efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would hurt the state's mining industry and drive up energy costs.
The industry is a major employer in Kentucky and receives nearly unanimous support from Republicans and conservative Democrats.
"The policies of this administration are threatening the very way of life that has sustained Kentucky communities for generations," U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said in a statement. Paul said the Obama administration has denied coal mining permits and issued "onerous" environmental requirements.
In a speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday, Obama said he would end the practice of coal-fired power plants dumping unlimited carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, moving to deliver on one of his major goals in office. He also announced the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants.
Kentucky is third in the nation in coal production and has a deep economic and historical connection to the industry, but in recent years the output in the state's Appalachian region has drastically dropped. Federal numbers say production in central Appalachia, which also includes southern West Virginia, is expected to tumble from 235 million tons mined in 2008 to about 139 million tons by 2015, a decline of more than 40 percent.
Political leaders in Kentucky and West Virginia have long said that Obama is waging a "war on coal." Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear criticized federal regulators by demanding in a 2011 speech that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "get off our backs."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, echoed that sentiment from Senate floor on Tuesday, saying the efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants would hamper the manufacturing sector.
"It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy," McConnell said.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the state would lose its low-cost electricity advantage and "manufacturers will flee our state."
Obama is "personally responsible for the loss of thousands of jobs," Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican who chairs the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, said in a statement. Whitfield said the committee would hold hearings to further examine the president's plan.
Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky's 5th District, also issued a statement criticizing the plan.
"This War on Coal is a war on middle-class Americans — it's a war on jobs and it has already put 5,700 Kentucky coal miners out of work since 2011," Rogers said.
Environmentalists said the Obama initiatives, if enacted, would improve the overall health of Kentuckians.
"At first blush, it appears that the president's climate action plan could result in a much-needed reduction in pollution, which can also result in better health for Kentucky residents regardless of whether one believes that climate change is real," said Elizabeth Crowe, director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.
Kentucky's lone congressional Democrat, Louisville's John Yarmuth, said his city's air quality is among the worst in the nation, thanks in part to carbon pollution.
"This plan will not only make the air we breathe safer, it will also spur investments in clean, sustainable energy technologies that will help our businesses grow and create new jobs," Yarmuth said.