Environment Local News

McConnell Calls on Senate Democrats to Pass Bill Blocking EPA Regulation

by Dan Conti, Kentucky Public Radio

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today called on majority Democrats in the Senate to approve the EPA Regulatory Relief Act. The bill would repeal limits on mercury and other emissions from cement kilns, as well as change the law by eliminating any deadlines for compliance with new federal pollution standards.

The measure passed the House last month with 41 Democratic votes. McConnell says he recognizes the importance of the EPA, but the agency’s recent regulations go too far. He called for “common sense limits” on the EPA’s actions.

“And that means putting in place laws that protect Americans against the kind of regulatory overreach that too many unelected bureaucrats in Washington seem to live for these days,” he said.

Local News Politics

GOP Senators Release Jobs Plan

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is leading a group of Republican lawmakers in promoting an alternative to the president’s jobs plan.

Today, Paul joined his Senate colleagues John McCain of Arizona and Rob Portman of Ohio in releasing the Jobs Through Growth Act. It’s a response to President Barack Obama’s “American Jobs Act,” which called for, among other measures, investments in infrastructure, a payroll tax cut and billions in state fiscal aid.

The GOP bill combines several conservative proposals, including cuts to labor and environmental regulations, lower corporate and individual tax rates and a balanced budget amendment.

Local News

National Attention for KY Lawmaker’s Opposition to Anti-Bullying Bill; River Fields Denies Delaying ORBP; DuPont Fined for Rubbertown Violations; McConnell Questions Obama’s Ohio Visit: Afternoon Review

Profiling a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide after years of alleged anti-gay taunts at school, CNN’s Anderson Cooper covered opposition to bullying legislation in Kentucky by highlighting state Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, who believes homosexuality is a sin.

Leaders with the conservation group River Fields rebuffed a resolution introduced in the Louisville Metro Council that blames them for delays to the Ohio River Bridges Project. River Fields Board of Trustees President Lee Cory says city lawmakers and civic leaders are whipping up a mob mentality to demonize the group, adding River Fields is not responsible for the delays.

And in other bridge-related news, engineers say it will take another week-and-a-half to finish their inspection of the Sherman Minton Bridge. Then they’ll be able to determine how long it will take to repair the bridge and re-open it to traffic.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the motives of President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, alleging it’s more about his re-election than solving the country’s economic woes. The span connecting Kentucky to Ohio was cited in Mr. Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress earlier this month as an example of the country’s crumbling infrastructure needs.

And the Louisville Air Pollution Control Board voted today to approve a settlement between the city and DuPont for permit violations at the company’s Rubbertown plant. The board order fines the company $51,000.

Local News

Officials Stress Need to Work Together in Wake of Sherman Minton Closure

Engineers and highway workers took elected officials on a tour of the Sherman Minton Bridge today to brief them on the span’s structural problems. The bridge was closed a week ago after a crack was discovered.

Mayor Greg Fischer, Senator Mitch McConnell, Representatives John Yarmuth and Todd Young were there, along with Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock.

All emphasized the need to work together, across state and party lines, to deal with the regional issues caused by the Sherman Minton Bridge closure.

Congressman John Yarmuth says the country can’t ignore its infrastructure.

“To me, situations like these, this isn’t elected surgery,” he said. “This is essentially a life-threatening situation in terms of regional commerce. So we have to do this, and there are thousands of situations like this around the country.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the state has several bridges that need immediate repair, but he wouldn’t elaborate on whether the recently-proposed jobs bill by President Obama would address these critical infrastructure problems.

“I don’t want to get into an assessment of the President’s most recent stimulus suggestion,” McConnell said. “We’ll be assessing that and taking a look at it. I don’t rule all of that out or all of that in. What I can tell you is that the issue of roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.”

All stressed that the Sherman Minton Bridge is not connected to the Ohio River Bridges project, and the Sherman Minton will be fixed regardless of the outcome of Louisville’s other proposed bridges.

None of the men would describe the damage they’d seen below the bridge, saying only that there were more issues than previously thought. A report is expected in the next few weeks on the Sherman Minton’s prognosis.

Environment Local News

Obama Withdraws Draft Rule Meant to Tighten Ozone Standards

As Louisville suffers a string of bad air quality days due to high ozone levels, the Obama Administration has announced that it’s withdrawing a proposal to strengthen the nation’s ozone standard.

President Barack Obama has asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw a draft proposal that would tighten the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The proposal would have placed stricter regulations on polluters and required major environmental upgrades for most to comply with the Clean Air Act.

In a statement, Mr. Obama said his administration was committed to protecting public health and the environment, but he decided the new ozone standard would create regulatory uncertainty in uncertain economic times.

The announcement was simultaneously hailed and panned by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said the Obama Administration needs to take similar steps back with other regulatory moves.

Local News Politics

At Fancy Farm, Republicans Focus on National Issues, Democrats Quiet on Obama

The only elections on the ballot this year in Kentucky are for statewide offices. But candidates at this weekend’s Fancy Farm Picnic spent much of their time discussing national politics.

The references to national politics started with the first political speech…delivered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who used the Congressional bickering over raising the debt ceiling to criticize Democratic candidate for Governor Steve Beshear.

“You may have noticed that Steve and President Obama are singing the same tune these days. They both claim they’ve improved the economy,” McConnell said.

McConnell then introduced his fellow Republican, junior Senator Rand Paul. McConnell called Paul a “rising star,” though the two disagreed on every step toward the debt ceiling compromise. Paul is an ideological leader of the Tea Party movement, and he had a number of fans in the audience who were fiercely loyal to him, more so than to the GOP itself.

Like McConnell, Paul criticized local Democratic candidates for being too politically similar to the president. That’s a claim few of the candidates disputed, and none acknowledged, since none of the Democrats spoke in support of the President or the Senate majority.

Most of the other GOP candidates who spoke compared their opponents to national Democrats. Republican Attorney General candidate Todd P’Pool and Secretary of State candidate Bill Johnson blasted the healthcare overhaul law. Several candidates also referenced the fact that Beshear did not meet with President Obama when he visited troops at Fort Campbell, even though the governor was not invited.

The Democrats did not defend the president. That was a job left to their supporters in the crowd, though many of them were lukewarm on federal Democrats.

Local News

Protest Seeks Answers from Washington Politicians

A protest was held outside the office building of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Friday. Protesters held signs and chanted and said they’re tired of Washington Politics.

“It’s not being able to communicate. Each party, there are three political parties right now, each party has a political corner and they will not agree to the other side. And who is suffering: the people,” said Larry Tomes, a retired sergeant major and Louisville resident.

Protesters wanted answers about what might happen if Congress can’t make a decision on how to prevent default by Aug. 2. Many were concerned that if the U.S. does default, payments for Social Security and Medicare will be compromised, but those payments are likely to be made, said Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville. But some payments might be cut short, he said.

“It’s really sort of up in the air as to exactly, as far as some of those other concerns, who will receive payments and who won’t,” he said.

It’s difficult to say what state bills won’t be paid if the federal government runs out of money, he said. But Clayton expects Congress to make a deal before the nation reaches the debt ceiling on Tuesday. If it doesn’t, the question becomes how long can states hold out, he said.

Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced Kentucky has added almost $122 million to its rainy-day fund, making it better off than many states if a default occurs, said Clayton.

Local News

KIPDA to Lobby for Aging Care Funding

A local agency for aging and independent living will be in Washington next week to lobby legislators in the hope of preserving the federal budget for aging care programs.

The Social Services Division of the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency provides assistance to disabled persons of all ages as well as the elderly, and Director Barbara Gordon says the agency is concerned about the possibilities of budget cuts to aging care programs

“We hope to declare an important message about how important the services and programs we provide are to these vulnerable populations,” Gordon says “but also the cost-effectiveness of these programs.”

Gordon says the agency’s aging care services allow the elderly to continue to live at home, which saves money in comparison to the high cost of nursing homes.  She also says the services rely on government funding as a way to leverage private funds, and not as the sole source of funding.

“That’s another message that we are trying to get across, is that the federal fund are needed because it is you know, our county’s goal, I hope,” she says “to serve vulnerable populations and to make sure that all those who are in need have access to the services that they need.”

The organization will meet with several Kentucky lawmakers, including senators Paul and McConnell to lobby for funding, as well as the preservation of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Environment Local News

McConnell Updates Senate on Rescue of Kentucky Coal Miners

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor this morning. He began his remarks with an update to his colleagues on the three miners who spent yesterday trapped in a Bell County coal mine due to rising flood waters.

“Yesterday I came to the floor to report that there were several miners in Kentucky trapped in a mine as a result of floods,” he said. “I want to start today with an update on that situation. I’m happy to report that all three were rescued after spending 14 hours trapped in a Bell County coal mine. They were all reunited with their families last night, which is great news.  Their families were waiting for them at the West Cumberland Baptist Church. We’re certainly glad that this particular story had a happy ending.”

Environment Local News Politics

Politicians’ ‘War on Coal’ Rhetoric Politically-Beneficial, But Exaggeration

In the past week, several Kentucky politicians have spoken out against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and what they call its “war on coal.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Governor Steve Beshear and State Representative Jim Gooch Jr. have all complained that EPA regulation is endangering the state’s coal industry.

Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet Len Peters says one of the reasons for the outrage is several different EPA regulations all being implemented at once.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Peters said. “It’s a perfect storm in terms of the regulatory aspect against the utilities as well as what’s occurring with the mining of coal today.”

But for politicians in Kentucky, this rhetoric is nothing new. Al Cross is the director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. He says coal has done a good job selling itself as essential to the state’s economy, even though it makes up a very small percentage of Kentucky’s gross state product—less than manufacturing, retail trade and transportation, to name a few.

“That being said, it is so important to a region like eastern Kentucky and secondarily to many counties in western Kentucky that it has a political influence that outstrips its economic influence,” Cross said.

It’s talk that’s bound to escalate as the November election nears, but Cross doesn’t expect Governor Beshear to take such an explicitly pro-coal stance that he alienates his supporters in the environmental community. Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams has expressed support for the coal industry. But Independent Gatewood Galbraith has spoken out against the controversial strip mining technique mountaintop removal.