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              Kentucy Gov. Steve Beshear makes his way through a crowd to deliver his victory speech in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday Nov. 8, 2011. Beshear was re-elected Tuesday, becoming the second Democrat to win a U.S. gubernatorial race this year amid lingering economic uncertainty that

Another Dem breaks ranks with Obama administration on coal regulations

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky has called on the Obama administration to axe a pending environmental regulation that would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency sent last week, Beshear asked the agency to consider an alternative approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions that would allow power plants to still burn coal, arguing that the economy thrives on cheap, affordable energy.

Beshear is not the first Democratic governor to rebel against the Obama administration’s environmental agenda. Last week, the Democratic governors of Montana and West Virginia filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged proposed federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only Democratic governors have pushed back against the Obama administration — a contingent of Democratic senators from coal-reliant states have done so as well.

“Such a requirement is unprecedented under the Clean Air Act and will have the unfortunate effect of preventing the construction of new coal plants or the upgrading of existing sources,” wrote Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana in a letter to President Obama. “We urge you to consider an alternative approach.”

The EPA is in the process of finalizing greenhouse gas emissions limits for new power plants that would make it essentially impossible for coal-fired power plants to comply unless they utilized carbon capture technology — which isn’t yet commercially viable.

Kentucky, Montana and West Virginia are major coal mining states that would be negatively impacted if such a regulation were to go into effect.

The outlook for Appalachian coal, which includes Kentucky and West Virginia, is already bleak, according to Downstream Strategies. The group projects that Central Appalachian coal production will fall by 31 percent, from 185 million tons in 2011 to 128 million tons in 2020.

Furthermore, the number of Kentuckians employed in the coal industry fell to its lowest point in half a century. In the last 18 months, Kentucky lost 5,700 coal jobs — a 30 percent drop from September 2011 employment numbers.

“These numbers are not surprising, but they’re very concerning,” said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. The coal group also noted that the federal government has halted about 40 mining permits in eastern Kentucky, costing the region 3,600 jobs in coal mines and other businesses.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that more than 280 coal-fired units will be shut down nationwide in the coming years due in part to stricter EPA regulations targeting coal plants.

Seven new EPA regulations alone will cost the electrical sector $16.7 billion per year, cause 887,000 job losses per year and contribute to the shutting down of 69,000 megawatts of coal-fired power, according to a report by the National Economic Research Associates.

However, this is welcome news for environmental groups who argue that burning coal is bad for public health and contributes to global warming.

The Sierra Club claims that burning coal is a major contributor to global warming, leads to as many as 13,000 premature deaths annually, and adds more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

“The coal industry is cracking faster than the ice sheets, but it might not be fast enough,” Sierra Club attorney Bruce Nilles said in an interview with The Washington Post.

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