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              President Barack Obama gestures during a speech on climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. Obama is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

50 Kentucky lawmakers urge Obama to stop attacking coal

In the wake of President Obama unveiling his global warming plan, a bipartisan group of 50 Kentucky lawmakers are urging the administration to stop its “unfair attack on coal.”

“In Kentucky, coal is not just an energy source, it’s a way of life,” reads a letter from 50 Kentucky Republican and Democratic state legislators, adding that coal is essential to the state’s economy and revenue.

Earlier this summer, Obama unveiled his new plan to address global warming, which includes curbing carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing coal plants. His announcement only stoked the coal supporters’ fears of further crackdowns on the carbon-heavy energy source.

“As a former U.S. Senator from Illinois, you have more than a passing knowledge of the importance of coal — and the devastating impact your recommended changes could have on coal-producing states,” the letter adds. “In Kentucky alone, the loss would measure in the billions of dollars — both from declines in the industry and what are predicted to be steep increases in energy costs.”

Kentucky has felt the sting of Environmental Protection Agency clean air and water regulations that have disproportionately hurt the coal industry. According to one estimate, EPA regulations have contributed to nearly 2,000 megawatts of coal-fired power being retired in the coming years.

The EPA has also blocked about 40 mining permits in Eastern Kentucky, which cost the region about 3,600 jobs in coal mines and other businesses, according to the Kentucky Coal Association.

According to the Kentucky lawmakers, the coal industry contributed $10 billion to the state’s economy in 2010 and was responsible for more than 42,000 jobs and $2.85 billion in earnings. The state also relies heavily on the coal industry for revenue — $230 million in severance tax receipts this year alone.

“Unfortunately, employment at Kentucky coal mines has decreased from more than 19,000 to nearly 14,000 in just the past few years,” the lawmakers add. “When these jobs are all but gone, can you tell us how we are supposed to replace them and the more than $1 billion in lost earnings? Job opportunities are already scarce in most of our mining communities.”

Environmentalists have been targeting the coal industry for some time now, and have been lobbying the Obama administration to get tougher on coal as well as other fossil fuels.

“The coal industry is cracking faster than the ice sheets, but it might not be fast enough,” said Sierra Club attorney Bruce Nilles in an interview. The Sierra Club launched an anti-coal campaign that seeks to retire one-third of the more than 500 U.S. coal plants by 2020 and replace many of them with green energy power.

Reuters reports that 15,000 megawatts of coal-fired power have been taken offline since Obama took office in 2009, and more than 37,000 megawatts of coal power is slated for shutdown over the next decade or so.

Kentucky lawmakers also urged Obama to continue supporting clean coal technologies as well as coal-to-liquid initiatives.

“We believe our nation would be much better served by focusing on clean-coal technology with the same dedication and ingenuity put into the Manhattan Project and the space program,” the letter added. “Beyond strengthening our own energy independence, imagine what a breakthrough in this area could do for other nations that also rely heavily on coal and have no intention of backing away. No other project could have a greater impact on our world this century.”

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