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Beshear unveils new energy strategy without mentioning climate change

The Mill Creek Generating Station in southwest Louisville.
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
The Mill Creek Generating Station in southwest Louisville.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear unveiled a new energy strategy for the state Wednesday without mentioning climate change, its impacts or goals to curb carbon emissions.

The strategy focuses on promoting “all of Kentucky’s energy resources” in order to power and promote growth for a more resilient economy with an emphasis on production, manufacturing and transportation, according to the strategy document.

“The Commonwealth has and will remain an energy hub powering the nation while manufacturing goods for the global marketplace,” Beshear said during the virtual conference on energy and the environment.   

The plan, dubbed “E3” for energy, environment and economic development, used words that nod to the impacts of climate change, but never actually mentions the elephant in the room, or any serious plans to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The world’s foremost experts on the subject say humanity is running out of time to eliminate carbon emissions and avoid catastrophic feedback loops that will devastate communities, economies and ways of life. 

Kentucky has seen historic levels of flooding over the last decade, but it’s also seen droughts, and those are the kinds of patterns that climate change causes. These impacts will only get worse as the planet warms, if governments don’t take action to curb our reliance on fossil fuels.

At least 11 states across the country have 100% clean energy targets. Just last year, Virginia passed legislation forcing American Electric Power and Dominion Energy to have a 100% renewable portfolio by 2045, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

In a message outlining his strategy, Beshear wrote the world is changing, facing increasing threats from “natural, manmade and cybersecurity events.” The strategy is peppered with statements like “improve state government sustainability practices.” 

In fact, the 20-page document uses the word sustainable 17 times, including to “identify new sustainable fossil fuel opportunities,” but the strategy never actually defines what sustainability means in practice, or the problem that “sustainability” is attempting to remedy.   

Instead, the plan focused largely on promoting economic development of companies that, themselves, are working toward a more sustainable future. 

Beshear, who is running for re-election, touted the development the agritech businesses like AppHarvestand AppleAtcha, the latter of which is planting apple orchards on reclaimed mine lands, as well as Ford’s plans to build, in Beshear's words, the largest battery plants in the country for the next generation of electric vehicles.   

“We will lead our nation, better yet the entire world, in the production of batteries to fuel electric vehicles,” Beshear said. 

Beshear’s new strategy remains “fuel neutral” meaning the administration will promote Kentucky as a hub for hydrogen production and “alternative fuel transportation corridors” as well as natural gas and liquid fuels.

More than two-thirds of Kentucky's electricity came from coal last year, and the Commonwealth remains the fifth-largest coal producing state in the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But despite coal's large cultural influence in the state, the industry employed only 3,952 workers in the second quarter of 2021.

Ahead of the governor’s speech at the conference, Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman promoted the cabinet’s efforts to combat climate change and promote environmental justice. Her tone struck a stark contrast to what followed from the governor.

“As we find ourselves in an alarming climate change we need to be looking at energy use and development in new ways,” Goodman said. “We need to promote responsible energy policies that promote not just efficient, reliable and sustainable energy solutions, but affordable solutions as well.”


Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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