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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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Local News

Mayor Fischer Unveils New Green Projects

Mayor Greg Fischer unveiled two green projects on Monday built with federal stimulus funds, continuing toward his goal of making Louisville a leader in energy efficient business.

The first project was an energy efficient green roof for the Romano L. Mazzoli Federal Building. The $1 million dollar project is the largest green roof in Kentucky, covering 24,000 square feet, said Fischer. It features a process that collects rainwater and repurposes the runoff to water plant beds below.

“It was beautiful to see the effectiveness of the roof. These are wonderful ways to demonstrate how dollars can be used smartly,” said Fischer.

Later on Monday, Fischer was joined by Congressman John Yarmuth, D-3, in announcing a new $4.5 million energy efficient TARC facility. The facility is used for maintenance and training and uses solar and natural lighting to power buses instead of having them idle, using fuel and costing money. Fischer said these projects are an investment.

“Sometimes in the private sector people say the payback’s not there–they’re looking at a short period of time, three years or five years,” he said.

But it will take more time to see the effects, said Fischer.

Yarmuth touts the project as a good response to some of the problems in Congress.

“As you’ve no doubt heard there’s been a lot of talk about cutting spending, reducing waste and most importantly creating jobs. Given the dysfunction in Washington right now those might seem like tough goals to achieve. But the truth is right here we’ve done each of these things and more,” he said.

The new TARC facility is expected to save around 30 percent of its energy cost, said Yarmuth. TARC also announced a new route its buses will take out of the terminal. The route will save time, create less traffic, and save around $100,000 in fuel costs.

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Government Officials Announce $22 Million Sheppard Square Revitalization Loan

US Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was in Louisville today to announce a $22 million grant to revitalize the Sheppard Square public housing development and the surrounding community.

The grant is part of the Hope VI program and will be used to raze the current development and replace it with mixed-income housing.

Secretary Donovan praised Metro Government’s innovation and history with the Hope VI program while commending the work of local government legislators and officials for putting this development together.

“You know so often we talk about big government versus small government, what we’re celebrating today is smart government,” says Donovan “a partnership between the public and private communities and sectors that can change people’s lives that’s the kind of transformation we’re gonna see at Sheppard Square.”

This grant is the fourth Hope VI grant for Louisville. The nearly 70-year-old Sheppard Square complex includes 326 units. The new neighborhood will include an additional 128 units.

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Environment Local News Politics

Yarmuth Supports President’s Plan to Cut Dependency on Foreign Oil

In an attempt to reduce nation’s dependence of foreign oil, President Barack Obama is encouraging oil companies to begin drilling the thousands of acres of land they currently lease in the United States. Mr. Obama’s suggestion is similar to one made by Third District Congressman John Yarmuth in 2008.

In response to oil companies’ requests for increased offshore drilling rights, Yarmuth proposed a bill that would require the companies to explore and drill the land they currently lease or else lose their leases.

Mr. Obama’s proposal to relies on financial incentives, and Yarmuth says that may make it more successful. He supports the plan, but says alternative energy sources need to be explored as well.

“We know that fossil fuel—well, most people know that fossil fuel—is not the long-term answer to our energy requirements. But we also know that there are millions and millions of vehicles on the road that are going to rely on gasoline for a long time to come,” he says.

Domestic drilling is expensive and time consuming, and the new sources won’t likely reduce gas prices. Yarmuth says high gas prices are a concern, but pollution and the dangers associated with importing oil are pressing issues.

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Local News Politics

Yarmuth Says Infrastructure Bank Could Appeal to House GOP, Fund ORBP

Depending on if and when it’s approved, the proposed federal infrastructure bank could be used to pay for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry recently introduced a measure in the Senate to create a self-sustaining fund to finance infrastructure improvements. Third District Representative John Yarmuth says the bridges project fits the criteria in Kerry’s proposal.

“The projects it’s used to finance have to be projects of regional or national significance. Unless they’re in rural areas, they have to be $100 million,” he says. “So these are big projects that are very, very difficult to fund. These are projects that have to have a dedicated revenue stream to help support the investment.”

The measure has some bi-partisan support in the Senate. Yarmuth says he thinks it could earn several Republican backers in the House, too, largely because it could attract private investment and because it would not require additional federal deposits every few years. He does expect it to draw criticism from Tea Party-aligned lawmakers, though.

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Local News Politics

Yarmuth Says White House Should Be More Open on Libya

Third District Congressman John Yarmuth says he has a number of questions about the ongoing military action in Libya, and many of them stem from what he calls a lack of clarity from the White House. (For the national perspective on this topic, listen to this NPR report.)

Yarmuth agrees with President Barack Obama that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi should not be in power. But he says the president should’ve been more open with congress before launching military strikes to enforce a no-fly zone.

Yarmuth has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq. He says the situation in Libya doesn’t compare.

“But it’s not over,” he says. “When you start moving from enforcing a no-fly zone to actually bombing buildings in the compound of Gadhafi that raises questions about what the true mission is.”

Yarmuth is also worried military leaders won’t stick to their timeline to end the strikes.

“I don’t think there’s any question that members of both sides of the aisle are a little bit confused as to exactly what our objective and what our measurements for success are,” he says. “There is potential for prolonged involvement. I don’t think the American people support that, I don’t think they’d be ready for it, I don’t think the congress would be willing to pay for it or endorse it. I think that’s why we need a clear picture of why we’re there, how long we’re going to be there.”

Yarmuth says despite the backing of many European and Middle Eastern countries, it looks like the U.S. is leading the military action, and that’s a cause for concern. Further, he’s wary that the impending NATO-led humanitarian mission won’t go as planned.

Republican Congressman Todd Young of southern Indiana is also critical of the military action in Libya. He raised several concerns in a statement posted on Facebook, but was not available for comment.

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Local News Politics

U.S. Drug Czar Visiting Kentucky This Week

The top anti-drug official in the nation will be in Louisville tomorrow.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske—who is informally called the country’s Drug Czar—will stop in the city as part of a trip through Kentucky.

Kerlikowske and Congressman John Yarmuth will meet with patients and doctors at the VA Substance Abuse treatment center in the veteran’s hospital. The two will then talk with local law enforcement officials in downtown Louisville.

Kerlikowske is also visiting Lexington, London and Pikeville this week. In an op-ed published Sunday, Senator Mitch McConnell said he wanted the drug czar to visit eastern Kentucky, where prescription pill abuse is rampant.

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Local News Politics

Yarmuth Has Concerns About Budget, Hopes For Compromise

In a news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama said he’s hopeful he and Congress can have an “adult conversation” about his latest federal budget proposal, and Third District Congressman John Yarmuth says he thinks civil cooperation is possible.

Many Republicans have called for deeper cuts than those proposed by Mr. Obama. Yarmuth says compromise has been difficult on some issues in the GOP-led House, but he has hope for bipartisan budget negotiations.

“Last week, in the discussions we had in the Budget Committee, the tone was very cooperative and respectful and I think there’s a possibility we can work together,” he says.

Yarmuth says he appreciates the overall goal of the budget, which is to reduce the deficit over the next few years without hurting programs that benefit the economy, but he doesn’t like the proposed cut to heating assistance for low-income Americans, and he’s open to finding a way to restore those funds.

“Everything’s negotiable, and I think we certainly ought to look at every program as to its effectiveness and as to whether the expense is justified. I think there are ways to compromise an all these,” he says. “A lot of us, for whom some of these cuts the Republicans have proposed and even cuts like the ones the Obama administration has proposed would be much more acceptable if we didn’t have 10% unemployment and so many people suffering.”

Yarmuth says he would also like to see more changes in military spending. Specifically, the congressman wants the government to spend less on war efforts, though he admits that sort of change is unlikely.

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Local News Politics

Panel Discusses Past, Present Of Intense Political Rhetoric

A University of Louisville panel on political discourse says today’s political divisiveness is not unprecedented.

Congressman John Yarmuth, outgoing Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and political science professor Jasmine Farrier sat on the panel. Farrier said many people seem to have historical amnesia when decrying the intense and sometimes violent rhetoric in Congress and in the media.

“I don’t know why we don’t acknowledge that we have had political violence in this country,” she said. “We have had terrible divisions. The New Deal was called Socialist and Fascist when those words meant something. And yet we think back that that was a wonderful consensus moment. It wasn’t.”

Yarmuth agreed with Farrier, but said the increase in the number of media outlets and in the public’s access to media has exacerbated any problems. The panel was organized after the shooting rampage in Arizona that left six dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously injured. Yarmuth said it’s too early to say exactly what motivated the alleged shooter, but three topics immediately surfaced and should be discussed.

“One was guns, one was mental health…and the possibility that something triggered in Jared Loughner the idea of going to shoot a government official. And we ought to debate all of those and the intersection of the three,” he said.

In her closing remarks, Farrier suggested the audience change the tone of the media by boycotting controversial hosts. Grayson added that news consumers should expand their horizons.

“Go to the other side, if you will, and read arguments in favor of a policy you think right now you don’t agree with or against a policy you agree with. There are plenty of great sites out there,” he said.

The full forum:

Audio MP3