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Here’s Why Bevin’s EPA Announcement Is So Confusing

Tennessee Valley Authority

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced his administration would seek an extension to comply with upcoming federal carbon dioxide regulations from power plans.

On the face of it, this isn’t surprising. Without an extension, the deadline to decide how Kentucky will reduce emissions is fast-approaching. It makes sense that the state would seek as much time as possible.

But piecing together the statement released by Bevin’s office and a brief interview I did with the Energy and Environment Cabinet raises more questions. While state regulators plan to ask the Environmental Protection Agency for two more years to consider their options, they seem opposed to every option that actually involves reducing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The Clean Power Plan is calling for steep cuts in emissions from power plants. To do this, states have two options: Create a state plan or follow the federal plan.

There’s a third option Kentucky regulators are hoping for, which is that the judicial system overturns the regulation, and the EPA is forced to go back to the drawing board and spend years reformulating the regulations.

News came yesterday that the Court of Appeals denied a call for a stay — basically a request to pause the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until the legal issues are settled. So now the clock is still ticking on the regulation’s deadlines, and Kentucky may not have the luxury of the lawsuit resolving before it has to comply with the law.

If Kentucky doesn’t take action by September — either by submitting a state compliance plan or asking for an extension — time runs out. By default, the commonwealth will have to follow the federal plan, which most of the state’s stakeholders agree wouldn’t be in Kentucky’s best interest.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown said as much yesterday:

“Under a federal plan, Kentucky would be much more greatly and negatively impacted than it would be if the state even filed its own plan,” he said.

So asking for an extension is one way to keep the ball in the air while Kentucky figures out what to do.

“This path forward doesn’t commit us to any particular approach but will secure a two-year extension giving litigation time to proceed,” said Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely in a written statement. “This will protect Kentucky from any attempt to impose a federal plan full of job-killing mandates.”

Everyone in the Bevin administration seems to be on the same page that they think the federal plan wouldn’t be good for Kentucky. But they also remain adamantly opposed to the only other option: the state plan.

“We are not submitting a state plan,” Brown said, adding that cabinet officials don’t believe they have to do any work on a state plan to seek the extension.

But it remains to be seen whether asking the EPA for more time to work on a state plan Kentucky doesn’t intend to submit will be successful. The EPA’s guidance document on the subject lays out only three requirements for seeking an extension, but it also makes reference to an “initial submittal.” Many — including in the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear — have interpreted that to mean some sort of outline for a state plan is required.

An email to the EPA for clarification wasn’t returned Thursday evening.

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