No public hearings in Kentucky on new EPA rule

Associated PressJuly 16, 2014 

— The Environmental Protection Agency will not host public hearings in Kentucky on its proposed new emission standards, despite a plea from the state's senior U.S. senator.

EPA's closest public hearing will be in an Atlanta federal building on July 29 and 30 - about a 61/2-hour drive from Union County, the state's largest coal producer. And Kentuckians who make the drive will have to show two forms of identification to attend the hearing. That's because Kentucky is one of 10 states whose driver's licenses do not comply with new federal requirements.

"This identification requirement at the locations you chose makes (my constituents') attendance now virtually impossible," U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Tuesday, his second letter requesting a public hearing in Kentucky. "If you were to accept my invitation to work together to find a suitable location in the Commonwealth at which to hold an additional hearing, such as the University of Pikeville, all this could be avoided."

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said people can comment on the proposed new regulations by email, fax or letter. And she said employees in EPA's regional office are "happy to meet with people in Kentucky" - but stressed it was better to submit comments in writing. The deadline to comment on the new proposed rule is Oct. 16.

"EPA considers all comments equally, no matter how they are submitted," she said.

The federal Real ID law strengthens the identification standards required to enter federal buildings, nuclear power plants and airplanes. It was passed in 2005 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. McConnell, along with every other Senator at the time, voted for the bill - which was attached to a broader military spending bill.

Kentucky is one of 10 states who have not complied with the new rules. The problem is not how the driver's licenses look, but the security in place at the 145 county offices across the state that issue the licenses, state Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Lisa Tolliver said.

"We've got some of the issues tackled and we're working on some of the others," Tolliver said. "This is not something we are dragging our feet on. It just takes a little bit of time."

The EPA's new emission standards are a concern for Kentucky leaders because the state is the nation's third-largest coal producer behind Wyoming and West Virginia. About 93 percent of the state's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

EPA's proposed rules to the Clean Power Plan require all of Kentucky's power plants to average 1,844 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour by 2020. State officials expect Kentucky to meet that standard because 11 boilers are scheduled to shut down by then because of other EPA air quality regulations.

State officials are more concerned about another proposed EPA rule that would limit the construction of new coal-fired power plants. The EPA proposed that rule in January and held one public hearing in Washington.

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AP National Environment Writer Dina Cappiello contributed reporting from Washington.

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