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Kentucky Is Already on Track to Meet EPA's Carbon Emissions Goals, Analyses Indicate

Kentucky is on track to comply with the EPA’s upcoming federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions—even if no further actions are taken.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report Wednesday outlining Kentucky’s progress in complying with the yet-to-be announced federal standard. It estimates that by 2020, the first year the state will have to meet greenhouse gas limits, Kentucky will have already cut its emissions to 113 percent of the goal.

In all, 14 states are on track to meet or surpass the expected federal benchmarks. In an article published last week, Inside Climate Progress came to similar conclusions.

But this isn’t news to Kentucky, or to the state’s utilities. In a report released more than a year ago about the economic challenges greenhouse gas regulations could pose to the state, regulators estimated that Kentucky’s electric utilities would emit 73.8 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2025. This is solely through power plant retirements that have already happened, or have been set in motion and will happen next year. The EPA’s limit for Kentucky is expected to be 94.7 million tons by 2020.

A number of the state’s oldest and dirtiest coal-burning units have already been retired, or will retire soon. The catalyst for these retirements is new federal limits on mercury and other air toxics that will go into effect next year. For many older, inefficient plants, it makes more financial sense to retire or switch to natural gas than to keep burning coal with stricter pollution regulations.

And these reductions don't include other options, such as energy efficiency measures, that would further cut the state's carbon emissions.

The new information creates an awkward situation for Kentucky businesses and policymakers who have vocally opposed the EPA carbon dioxide regulations for so long. If Kentucky can comply with the federal regulations by doing nothing, are the rules worth fighting? The commonwealth is one of 14 statesopposing the regulations in court.

There’s also the issue of the state plan. The federal regulations are expected to set emissions reduction goals for each state, and then give states the flexibility to create plans for how to comply. If a state doesn’t create a plan, it will have to comply with whatever federal blanket plan regulators come up with.

Gov. Steve Beshear’s Energy and Environment Cabinet has begun work on a state plan, but it’s not expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Regulators have said they’ll create a transition document for the next administration, but both of Beshear's potential successors have indicated they won’t continue that work. A spokesperson for Democratic candidate Jack Conwaytold WFPL in March that he wouldn’t submit a state plan until the court has ruled on the pending lawsuit. In the past, Republican candidate Matt Bevin has been outspoken in his opposition to the EPA regulations.

But if Kentucky is already complying with the law by 2020, the commonwealth’s failure to submit a state plan could potentially lead to other forced reductions.

A legislative committee on natural resources and environment is scheduled to be briefed by Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters on Thursday on Kentucky’s response to the greenhouse gas regulations.