The Governor’s Race: energy and the environment
Published 9:44 am Monday, October 2, 2023
Editor’s note: This is part of weekly series examining the race for governor.
Nationally, political discussions about climate change are common. But you won’t hear either of this year’s gubernatorial candidates mention it by name.
In the race for Kentucky’s highest elected office, environmental issues are mostly out of view. Energy issues, however, are more conspicuous.
So, what are Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron saying and doing about these intertwined issues?
When Beshear talks about the environment, he typically includes it as part of a broader economic strategy.
Recently, he has touted the two major electric vehicle battery plants being built in Kentucky – Envision AESC in Bowling Green and BlueOval SK in Glendale – as examples of planning for the future, environmentally and economically.
In 2021, his administration launched KYE3, a long-term energy strategy focused on energy, the environment and economic development.
Beshear said at the time that the strategy would be a collaborative effort to “support sustainability, boost competitiveness and spur job growth and innovation in local and regional economies.”
“We must improve energy conservation and energy efficiency,” he said. “Boosting the energy infrastructure helps safeguard the health of our citizens and protect our businesses.”
The plan had no specific action items, and instead was designed to allow communities to create goals that made sense to them.
After tornadoes struck Western Kentucky in 2021 and flooding impacted eastern Kentucky in 2022, Beshear did not focus on how climate change may have exacerbated the disasters.
Instead, he emphasized recovery and rebuilding.
Beshear’s reluctance to take a strong environmental stance in a largely conservative state has not dissuaded Cameron from linking Beshear to President Joe Biden, who has much more ambitious environmental goals, during the campaign.
Cameron has used his position as attorney general several times to fight against what he sees as overreach by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In March, he challenged the EPA’s denial of Kentucky’s plan for complying with Cleaner Air Act standards.
He said that the EPA denial was unfair because it didn’t give Kentucky enough time to respond, and was closely followed by a federal EPA plan that would lead to significant cuts in Kentucky’s coal-fired electricity generation.
Also this year, Cameron filed suit against the EPA over its new definition of Waters of the United States, which would have expanded its authority over U.S. waterways and farmlands. He argued it went too far and violated Kentucky’s authority over its own waterways.
The Supreme Court has since required the EPA to start over in its rule-making process.
“Joe Biden’s radical climate agenda would hurt Kentucky – and I won’t allow it,” Cameron said after the ruling. “I have fought this administration’s fringe environmentalism every step of the way, and their concession today is the latest victory for farmers and landowners who wish to avoid excessive federal regulation.”
Cameron said he wants to look out for the agriculture community, making sure it is in a position for good growth.
“We have to have an across-the-board energy strategy, and I think it’s important to make sure we are responsible stewards of our environment,” he said at a recent event.
However, like Beshear, he is short on actionable plans to improve the commonwealth’s environmental sustainability and conservation.
Kentucky helped power the Industrial Revolution with its coal production. But now, the federal government is looking toward newer, cleaner energy.
In recent years, the legislature has passed several laws resisting the retirement of fossil fuels like coal.
In 2022, the legislature passed a fossil fuel boycott bill. It directs the treasurer to create a list of financial companies that have participated in energy company boycotts. If the listed companies refuse to stop their boycott, state agencies would no longer include them in pensions, investment portfolios or government contracts.
Beshear signed the bill into law.
In 2023, the legislature passed House Bill 236, which required investments in the state pension system to only consider financial interests, not any environmental, social, political or ideological interests.
Beshear also signed it into law.
Also in 2023, the legislature passed Senate Bill 4, a controversial measure banning the retirement of coal-fired electric generators unless it can be proven that the retirement won’t have a negative impact on energy costs or electric grid reliability.
SB4 became law without Beshear’s signature, but he did not veto it.
It was sponsored by Cameron’s running mate, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.
Cameron said he would continue fighting for an “across-the-board” energy strategy for Kentucky, which Beshear has also recommended.
But Cameron said there is a key difference between him and Beshear on energy.
“Joe Biden wants to destroy the fossil fuels industry by 2035,” Cameron said.
“That means coal and natural gas will be gone. Andy Beshear will do nothing to stop that because he’s beholden to Joe Biden and the far left. And so you need a governor that’s going to stand up for our energy policy, and I’ll be the governor that does that.”