Ky.’s next governor didn’t answer your questions about the environment
LPM News collected questions from the public asking how Kentucky’s next governor would protect people and the environment. Here’s how they responded.
Whoever wins the governor’s race will have to manage a state in transition.
The world’s leading climate scientists warn humankind must cut carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030 or face an unknowable, more inhospitable planet – one rife with instability, ecological tipping points, and compounding natural disasters.
But at the precipice, there is also opportunity. Kentucky’s clean energy sector was the second fastest growing in the country last year, and that will only grow as electric vehicle battery manufacturers and the downstream businesses complete new facilities in the state.
Solar companies are building on reclaimed mine sites, a legislative task force is exploring the future of nuclear power, utilities are building on carbon capture research and the state’s participating in the buildout of regional hydrogen infrastructure.
With all of this in mind, LPM asked each candidate for governor the same seven questions, plus three questions unique to their positions. The questions came from listener responses gleaned from X (formerly known as Twitter), and from our own reporting.
I'm planning to ask Gov. Andy Beshear and AG Daniel Cameron questions about how they would protect people and environment if they win governor's race in November. What do you want me to ask them about climate change/environmental commitments?— Ryan Van Velzer (@RyanVanVelzer) July 28, 2023
We gave each candidate two weeks to respond, but neither answered our questions. Instead each candidate for governor sent back a statement, which is included below. We also set out to answer listener questions based on publicly available information.
Each candidate has spent time talking about how much they care about Kentuckians, about their future, their safety, their potential to live a great life. A habitable planet is necessary to achieve any of those goals, but in a state that’s relied on its coal resources so much and for so long, it’s a tough case to make and not lose voters.
Here are your questions, and our answers.
Do you believe people's burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change? Do you believe that it’s primarily responsible for the dramatic changes and devastation seen around the globe? What should a governor do to protect future generations from what scientists agree is a coming climate catastrophe?
When pressed, Beshear often says, “climate change is real.” Beshear supports the buildout of renewable energy and has overseen billions of dollars in economic development related to electric vehicle manufacturing. However, Beshear also says he supports the continued use of coal. Coal emits more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel and is responsible for approximately 3,800 premature deaths each year in the U.S.
"I'm proud to be endorsed by not only coal operators, but the United Mine Workers who believe that I am the governor that can continue to support our traditional industries while bringing in jobs of the future. We have to have an all of the above energy policy," Beshear said during the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce debate this month.
Louisville Public Media was unable to find an instance of Daniel Cameron publicly stating his position on climate change. He did not answer the question in his statement. However, in his time as attorney general, Cameron has accumulated an extensive record of undermining policies that would combat climate change. He has spoken effusively about preserving the state’s coal industry and often describes the energy transition as "short-sighted."
What policies will you implement as governor to reduce carbon emissions to levels that will make our state livable in 50 years?
Neither candidate addressed this question in their statements to LPM.
Under Beshear’s leadership, Kentucky has not adopted greenhouse gas emissions targets, as other states have. In fact, Kentucky was one of only four states that did not apply for up to $3 million in federal grants to create a climate action plan.
The state’s last climate action plan was written in 2011 while Gov. Andy Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, was still in office. That plan called for reducing state emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Cameron, however, has joined with other Republican Attorneys General around the country in opposing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that sets new, stricter standards for greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
“Make no mistake, this plan will be the death knell for Kentucky coal miners and coal plants. I will continue using every possible tool to prevent these extreme environmentalists from harming Kentucky,” Cameron said in an August press release.
How would your administration support the growth of renewable energy in the state from the perspectives of utilities, merchant generators and distributed energy systems? As governor, what’s your plan to support an economic transition in rural and urban communities in Kentucky?
Over the next decade, utilities in Kentucky plan to continue the transition away from coal and towards natural gas utilizing a smaller amount of renewables, mostly solar and battery storage.
Both Cameron and Beshear say they are for an “all of the above” energy approach that encourages growth in fossil fuels alongside renewables like solar and wind.
Last week Cameron opposed Kentucky Power’s plans to buy out-of-state solar and wind power at a time when the utility is struggling to meet the power needs of its customers. In a press release titled “Cameron fights for Kentucky coal,” he said the state should continue to rely on coal.
Beshear, too, has said the state should keep burning coal, but he’s also overseen the largest buildout of renewable energy in the state’s history.
That includes a nearly $6 billion investment in the BlueOval SK Battery Park in Hardin County that’s supposed to create 5,000 jobs for the region, and a $2 billion investment in AESC Gigafactory in Warren County, which is supposed to generate 2,000 jobs. Those projects were not even included in the research that found Kentucky to have the second fastest growing clean energy sector in the country last year.
What preparations will the state make for increasingly severe and frequent climate disasters, particularly flooding and heat waves?
Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet. As a result, Kentucky’s getting warmer, wetter and climate scientists say natural disasters like last July’s floods in eastern Kentucky will become more frequent. More heat means more energy in the atmosphere, leading to more intense storms.
Beshear has helped communities rebuild in the wake of the destructive tornadoes that destroyed Mayfield and Dawson Springs. He’s also working with the federal government, and developers to build homes in Eastern Kentucky outside the floodplains.
As attorney general, Cameron does not have the same level of responsibilities when it comes to natural disasters. However, Cameron has said he will continue to support the growth of coal and other fossil fuels.
How will your administration help agricultural producers deal with the impacts of climate change?
About half the land in Kentucky is used for agriculture: corn and soybeans, cattle, horses and poultry. The sale of those goods accounted for $6.86 billion in 2021, according to Ky. Food and Farm.
Agriculture relies on a stable climate. The longer the planet takes to end its reliance on fossil fuels, the more unstable that climate will become. But this isn’t an issue for the next decade, or next year. Kentucky farmers say they are already feeling the effects of climate change.
Despite how much the candidates talk about Kentucky’s economy, neither candidate told LPM how they plan to address these coming challenges.
As governor, what would you do about the PFAS chemicals, also known as forever chemicals, in Kentucky waterways and drinking water systems?
Climate change is only one of a number of growing concerns facing the planet. Nutrient runoff from farms along the Ohio River contributes to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, for example. There are risks to Kentucky’s biodiversity, fresh water, and soil health.
PFAS chemicals describe a family of chemicals used in products such as non-stick pans, waterproof clothing and cosmetics. They’re associated with a wide variety of health impacts, including certain types of cancer, and researchers have found them throughout the state.
Under the Beshear administration, Kentucky’s Department for Environmental Protection has undertaken the largest ever search for these chemicals in Kentucky’s environment. They’ve found them practically everywhere they’ve looked: in rivers and lakes, in drinking water and in every fish they tested. At times, the state has not been candid with the public about the high levels of contamination they’ve found.
Other attorneys general around the country have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of these companies, but Cameron’s office hasn’t mentioned it in official press releases since he took over the office.
What role should coal, natural gas and fossil fuels play in Kentucky’s transition to a cleaner burning economy?
Both candidates agree that coal and natural gas should continue to play a prominent role in Kentucky’s energy future, though Beshear has generally been more supportive of renewable energy technologies than Cameron.
Regardless of their support, utilities plan to retire almost a quarter of the country’s remaining coal fleet by 2029. Utilities in Kentucky anticipate closing more than a dozen coal units over the next 15 years. That's because older, less efficient units face higher operating and maintenance costs. That combined with increased regulations designed to limit pollution makes them less competitive when compared to new technologies.
Here are questions that are unique to each candidate, based on their current job description.
- You have said that you would not like to see any coal-fired power plants retire. How do you intend to keep Kentuckians safe from the harms caused by climate change while supporting industries that are contributing to the problem?
- You had an opportunity to receive millions from the EPA to develop and implement plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollution? Kentucky was one of four states to opt out of the program. Why didn’t you take it on behalf of the state?
- Who do you listen to in your administration about what the state should do to mitigate or prepare for climate change?
- A recent New York Times story found insurance rates quadrupling in eastern Kentucky following last year's floods -- floods that are consistent with effects of global warming. How do you intend to keep Kentuckians safe from the harms caused by climate change while supporting industries that are contributing to the problem?
- Kentucky is facing both a climate and a biodiversity crisis while still supporting industries that are further contributing to climate change. What would your administration do to protect the environment?
- Will your administration hire someone to help the state navigate ways to mitigate climate change or prepare for its effects?
The full statement from Republican candidate for governor Daniel Cameron:
"We should have an all-the-above energy policy that taps into the full range of resources and solutions. Kentucky attracts businesses, creates jobs, and provides our citizens with reliable and affordable energy due to our homegrown resources. Green schemes, and quick, short-sighted transitions aren’t going to be enough to protect our energy future."
The full statement from Democratic candidate for governor Andy Beshear:
“Climate change is real, and sensible but also achievable strategies should address it. I support a balanced energy portfolio that includes renewables and the jobs that come with them. Our state's energy resources are some of our most valuable assets, and we can benefit from them while protecting the Kentucky jobs and traditional energy industries that have powered our country for more than a century. Under my administration, Kentucky has become the electric vehicle battery capital of the United States. We are bringing these jobs and opportunities to communities across Kentucky. This includes projects like the $6 billion investment in the BlueOval SK Battery Park in Hardin County, which is set to create 5,000 jobs, and the $2 billion investment in AESC Gigafactory in Warren County, which will create 2,000 jobs. I will continue to work with all of our partners to ensure that we can create jobs and grow our economy here in Kentucky while keeping energy costs affordable and addressing climate change.”