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Environment Local News

House Passes Bill to Let States Regulate Coal Ash

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash—a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. The bill gives control of coal ash disposal to the states, which are required to regulate it as least as stringently as municipal waste.

Environmental groups opposed the bill, arguing the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate coal ash. The EPA has proposed two rules to control the substance, but if the House bill becomes law, it will be prohibited from instituting either rule.

The bill passed 267 to 144. Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth voted against the bill, while Democrat Ben Chandler and Republicans Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Geoff Davis supported it.

The bill’s chances in the Senate are unknown. Many Republicans are expected to vote in favor of it, but some coalfields Democrats have also expressed support.

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Environment Local News

House Expected to Vote on Coal Ash Bill Tomorrow

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill tomorrow that will block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash. The bill has support among House Republicans, but environmental groups are lobbying against it.

The bill is sponsored by West Virginia Representative David McKinley. It would let individual states regulate the disposal of coal ash, which is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. Under the bill, the states would have to regulate the ash at least as stringently as they regulate municipal waste.

The EPA has unveiled two proposals for regulating coal ash. Scott Slesinger is the Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says if the bill becomes law, it will block both of those proposals.

“What it does originally is stop the EPA regulatory process in its tracks and replaces a scientifically-driven rule with the congressional environmental standard that is acceptable to the utilities,” he said.

But Slesinger says that’s not so different from what’s going on now.

“So it essentially is very close to the current situation where it’s a straight state-run program and there’s great pressure from the utilities in many states not to regulate them,” he said. “So we’re very concerned.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. A spokesman for Congressman John Yarmuth says if the bill comes to the floor in its current state, Yarmuth will oppose it.

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Environment Local News

Whitfield: Renewable Energy Isn’t Cheap

by Dan Conti, Kentucky Public Radio

The Kentucky Congressman who chairs a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee says increasing federal subsidies for renewable sources of energy will not lower energy costs or help the economy. Republican Ed Whitfield says federal support for renewables has increased from $5 billion to $14 billion in the last three years…

“The reason that solar and wind are not taking off is that they are too inexpensive and too inefficient,” he said. “Now having said that, I recognize that they have a part in our economy. They have a part in producing electricity. But they can never be the base load.”

Whitfield says recent history shows additional funding has not lowered energy bills, even as subsidies were being raised.

“Renewables saw by far the largest increase in federal benefits,” he said. “Wind alone received a tenfold increase in subsidies. Solar increased by a factor of six from $179 million to $1.2 billion.”

He says renewables should continue receiving federal subsidies but he thinks it’s a mistake to increase them. He says it’ll be hard for the economy to rebound if energy costs continue to rise.

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Environment Local News

House Vote Expected Friday on Bill to Delay Air Regulations

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill tomorrow that would change the way the Clean Air Act is administered.

The bill is called TRAIN for short—the long name is the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011. TRAIN began as a bill to require analysis of the cumulative effect of upcoming environmental regulations, but various amendments, including one by Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield, have changed it into a bill that would delay air pollution regulations, some for years, some indefinitely.

Isaac Shapiro of the non-profit non-partisan Economic Policy Institute published a study of the clean air rules earlier this week, and found:

“In combination, the compliance cost from the Obama proposals is really a small sliver of the economy,” he said. “The total compliance cost from the Obama EPA rules amounts to only 0.1 percent of the economy and that’s a proportion that the economy can readily absorb.”

Shapiro’s analysis says the rules will save millions—or in some cases, tens of millions—of dollars, mostly in reduced health care costs and fewer missed work days. From a purely economic perspective, he says the rules are worth it. And in the case of most of the rules the bill is seeking to delay, Shapiro says they’ve already gone through years of study and analysis.

“It’s the outcome of a very open, transparent, intense process that has to take into account the views of both opponents and proponents of the regulation. So after all this has been done, they’re asking for further delay in this TRAIN legislation and I think that’s inappropriate.”

The bill has 45 co-sponsors, including Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

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Environment Local News

Bills to Delay Air Rules Clear Congressional Subcommittee

Two bills to delay EPA air regulations cleared a subcommittee in the House of Representatives today. After two hours of spirited debate, the legislation advanced with no significant changes.

The two bills target pending EPA rules to reduce air emissions from boilers and cement manufacturers. GOP members on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power said passing the bills would further President Barack Obama’s efforts to create jobs and aid the economy.

Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield is the chair of the subcommittee.

“Neither the cement nor the boiler bill was part of the President’s jobs speech last week, but both should have been, as these bills clear away impediments to job creation in the years ahead,” he said.

Both bills have been criticized by environmental groups, and Gina McCarthy, the head of Air for the EPA, told the committee last week that the agency didn’t need any more time to work on the rules.

According to a database created by the committee’s Democratic staff, the House has voted on 125 bills they dub “anti-environment” since the GOP has been the majority. Fifty of those have targeted the Environmental Protection Agency directly, while others have addressed individual rules, like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act.

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Local News Politics

Kentucky Lawmakers Respond to Jobs Plan

Elected officials in Kentucky are split along party lines on President Barack Obama’s jobs plan.

Tonight, the president put forward a $450 billion proposal to create jobs. It calls for infrastructure spending, payroll tax cuts, an extension of unemployment benefits and reforms to Medicaid and Social Security.

Junior Senator Rand Paul was the first lawmaker to issue a response, releasing a video minutes after the speech ended. Paul repeated his calls for a balanced budget amendment and encouraged the president to support cuts in spending and the corporate tax rate.

Kentucky’s four Republican members of the House—Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie, Geoff Davis, Hal Rogers—were also critical of the plan.

Democratic Congressmen Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth were supportive of the president’s proposals in statements released after the speech. Yarmuth said he wants to see specific details, but the plan should gain bipartisan support.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, called on Congress to pass the plan, saying numerous infrastructure projects in Louisville could benefit from it.

Obama also called on lawmakers to “stop the political circus” in his speech.

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Environment Local News Politics

Fancy Farm Speakers Line Up in Support of Coal

Much of the speaking at this weekend’s Fancy Farm picnic trended towards national issues. Candidates praised the military, worried about public debt and criticized what is—or isn’t—getting done in Washington. But coal and federal environmental regulations were also a target in several speeches.

Coal crossed party lines at Fancy Farm, as both Democrats and Republicans jostled to position themselves against unpopular federal policies. Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield brought up President Barack Obama and his administration’s new environmental regulations.

“Because his EPA is putting additional regulations on the utilities, delaying permits for coal miners, putting new air transport , new ozone rules in, and when they’re adopted, 2/3 of America is going to be in non-attainment,” he said. “And when you’re in non-attainment, you can’t develop anymore.”

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway brought up the lawsuit he filed on behalf of his fellow Democrat, Governor Steve Beshear, against the Environmental Protection Agency’s increased scrutiny of coal mine permits…

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Local News

Beshear, Whitfield Discuss Flood Damage

by Angela Hatton and Lisa Autry, Kentucky Public Radio

U.S. Congressman Ed Whitfield is on a tour of western Kentucky counties affected by flooding and storms. The Congressman visited Calloway County this morning and spoke with Murray Mayor Bill Wells about severe damage from Monday night’s storms. Whitfield says they also spoke about federal grants for cleanup efforts.

“Times like this when the Governor’s making decisions about disaster areas and president Obama’s involved in that as well, I just want to be sure to touch base with the mayors, county judges, the emergency responders, just to see if there’s any way we can assist as they try to recuperate from all of this weather damage,” he says.

Whitfield plans to tour between 10 and 12 counties today in far western Kentucky. He says he’ll discuss the trip with Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul when he gets back to Washington.

Governor Steve Beshear says he’s anxious to see the damage around Murray and Paducah, but a fly-over will have to wait.

“The National Guard advised me to stay on the ground until this latest front passes,” he says. “And it probably won’t get out of here until late tonight or early tomorrow morning.”

Damage assessments are being conducted, but the total extent won’t be known until the waters recede. Beshear says he expects to ask for a presidential disaster declaration.

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Environment Local News Politics

McConnell Seeks to Stop EPA From Further Regulating Carbon Emissions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new regulations on carbon emissions.

McConnell calls such regulations “a back-door national energy tax,” and says they would lead to higher prices for gasoline, groceries, electricity and natural gas.

Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has filed similar legislation in the House.

Carbon is a common pollutant and is linked to climate change. For more on the science of carbon emissions, watch this video from NPR and Robert Krulwich.

Additional information provided by the Associated Press

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Congressman Complains about Art in San Francisco

Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield recently signed a letter to the National Endowment for the Arts complaining about the work of arts groups it had funded. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

Whitfield of Hopkinsville signed the letter along with 49 other Republican congressman that objected to funding staff salaries of three San Francisco arts groups they accuse of producing obscene art.

Whitfield says his signature on the letter doesn’t mean he disapproves of the NEA’s work.

“Most of the funding that has come to my district has been quite productive,” Whitfield says. “And it’s been a program that’s been well received in the schools and [for] the local performing arts groups.”

Art critic Michel Brenson wrote a book about the culture wars of the 1990s that caused a significant funding reduction for the NEA. He says it’s not clear this letter signals a rerun to those debates.

“I think the arts have become more embedded, more populist in some way then they were 20 years ago,” Brenson says.

Whitfield signed the complaint sent just before last week’s confirmation of Rocco Landesman as the NEA’s new chairman.

Whitfield says he signed the letter on the basis of the works produced by the California groups and not because of anti-NEA sentiments in his district.

“In my district, I get a mixed bag,” he says. “A lot of people oppose any funding for the NEA and other people are quite support it. And I’ve generally always voted for funding for the NEA because I think their programs are very important.”

Last year, the advocacy group Americans for the Arts gave Whitfield a B + for his voting record on arts legislation.
Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield was among 50 Capitol Hill lawmakers who signed a letter of complaint to to the

Whitfield says he signed the letter after hearing from some San Francisco citizens who were upset that the groups were getting taxpayer money. He says he favors most the agency’s work, but thinks it should be cautious about the use of funds.

“I think that just use more common sense and I would just try to stay away from things that are obviously hot buttons that upset particular groups of people,” he says. “I mean there are so many wonderful artistic opportunities [the agency offers].”