Ken­tucky law­mak­ers skep­ti­cal of cli­mate change warn­ings

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY LES­LEY CLARK

A Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­port touts lo­cal Ken­tucky ef­forts to com­bat cli­mate change — but its dire warn­ings are hav­ing lit­tle sway with a coal friendly, mostly Repub­li­can con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

“Ken­tucky is one of the few re­gions in the whole world that hasn’t shown a warm­ing av­er­age tem­per­a­ture,” said Adam Terando, a North Carolin­abased re­search ecol­o­gist with the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey and fed­eral co­or­di­nat­ing lead au­ther or for the South­east chap­ter of the re­port.

“But over­all, the big­ger mes­sage is the cli­mate is warm­ing glob­ally and we ex­pect that to oc­cur re­gion­ally,” he said.

Warm­ing tem­per­a­tures around the globe will bring in­creased flood­ing and warm- tem­per­a­tures to Ken­tucky, threat­en­ing to dis­rupt agri­cul­ture and other sec­tors of the econ­omy, warns the con­gres­sion­ally-man­dated Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment, re­leased by 14 fed­eral agen­cies last week.

Al­though Ken­tucky and sev­eral other South­east states have bucked the global trend of ris­ing av­er­age tem­per­a­tures, Terando said the data show a warm­ing trend that could lead to hot­ter nights, which could hurt cer­tain crops and make it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to re­cover from day­time heat.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he’s skep­ti­cal of the re­port, telling the Wash­ing­ton Post that “a lot of peo­ple like my­self, we have very high lev­els of in­tel­li­gence, but we’re not nec­es­sar­ily such be­liev­ers.”

In Ken­tucky, of­fi­cials are wary of what they see as overly ag­gres­sive ef­forts to com­bat cli­mate change. They’re ea­ger to shield the coal in­dus­try from fur­ther de­cline and to aid

min­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Coal jobs in the state dropped this year to fewer than 7,000, less than half of the most re­cent peak in 2011, when coal em­ploy­ment topped 18,000.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Vance­burg, who says he’s “bullish” enough on so­lar en­ergy that he built his house to run on it ex­clu­sively, said the en­ergy al­ter­na­tive has draw­backs, chiefly the cost of stor­ing the en­ergy.

“Any govern­ment ef­fort to ar­ti­fi­cially limit coal and gas elec­tric sources be­fore en­ergy stor­age is more fully de­vel­oped will lead to higher en­ergy prices, ra­tioning, and pos­si­ble black outs de­pend­ing on the de­gree of govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion,” he said.

Rep. Andy Barr, RLex­ing­ton, said he’s not a cli­mate change de­nier and doesn’t dis­pute the re­port’s find­ings. But he dis­agreed with pro­posed so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing a car­bon tax to curb the green­house gas emis­sions that sci­en­tists say are warm­ing the planet.

“As a con­gress­man with a rep­u­ta­tion for a pro-coal, pro-fos­sil en­ergy record, I know that peo­ple would say I’m in­sen­si­tive to en­vi­ron­men­tal or cli­mate change is­sues and that’s not true,” Barr said. He cited his con­ver­sa­tions with Rep. Car­los Curbelo, R-Flor­ida, about the threat cli­mate change and ris­ing tides present to the coast­line.

“To say we are go­ing to dis­crim­i­nate against fos­sil en­ergy ei­ther through reg­u­la­tion or taxes is not good for our econ­omy,” Barr said.

Curbelo sup­ports a car­bon tax on pol­luters and Barr does not, ar­gu­ing that the coun­try should in­stead in­vest in re­search.

Ad­vo­cates of a car­bon tax ar­gue that it would not only dampen de­mand for fos­sil fu­els, but in­crease in­no­va­tion and re­search by spark­ing a de­mand for al­ter­na­tives to fos­sil fu­els.

Barr and the other Ken­tucky con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in 2016 voted to block spend­ing on a De­fense De­part­ment plan for cli­mate adap­ta­tion and re­silience.

Nei­ther of Ken­tucky’s Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, Rand Paul or Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon- nell, had re­viewed the re­port. Both signed a 2017 let­ter to Trump ap­plaud­ing his ef­forts to roll back Obama-era reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing the 2015 Clean Power Plan de­signed to cut plan­et­warm­ing emis­sions from the na­tion’s power plants.

A spokes­woman for Rep. Brett Guthrie, RBowl­ing Green, said he shared con­cerns about cli­mate change, but that he’s “mind­ful of the costs as­so­ci­ated with over-reg­u­la­tion that hurt our econ­omy.”

The del­e­ga­tion’s sole Demo­crat, Rep. John Yar­muth of Louisville, will be­come chair­man of the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee in Jan­uary, and plans to hold hear­ings aimed at demon­strat­ing the cost of cli­mate change to fed­eral tax­pay­ers.

“We want to il­lu­mi­nate the many dif­fer­ent ways cli­mate af­fects the fed­eral bud­get,” Yar­muth said. “Whether it’s farm sup­port pay­ments, flood in­sur­ance, dis­as­ter re­lief, pub­lic health, there are a mul­ti­tude of ways in which cli­mate change af­fects us in fi­nan­cial terms.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­port helps spot­light the di­vide be­tween fed­eral law­mak­ers and lo­cal of­fi­cials, who have tack­led cli­mate change projects. Among those high­lighted in the re­port: The Green River Dis­trict Health De­part­ment in a mostly ru­ral re­gion of west­ern Ken­tucky re­searched ways to pre­pare for the pro­jected health con­se­quences of ex­treme heat, drought and flood­ing.

“Go­ing into the project, we were con­scious that there is a po­lit­i­cal el­e­ment, but we ig­nored the pol­i­tics of it,” said Clay­ton Hor­ton, pub­lic health direc­tor for the seven-county health de­part­ment. “We looked at what are the haz­ards and what do we need to do to ad­dress the needs of our com­mu­nity.”

The re­port also cites Louisville for in­stalling 145,000 square feet of “cool roofs” — de­signed to re­flect sun­light and ab­sorb less heat — af­ter con­duct­ing a study of ur­ban heat. A 2014 re­port by the non-profit Cli­mate Cen­tral ranked the city as hav­ing the fifth most in­tense ur­ban heat is­land in the U.S., out of 60 cities sur­veyed.

City of­fi­cials said their ef­fort is part of Sus­tain Louisville, a larger cam­paign to ad­dress sus­tain­abil­ity, in­clud­ing cli­mate change.

That the fed­eral govern­ment may not share the ur­gency is not a stum­bling block, said Jeff O’Brien, direc­tor of Develop Louisville, the city’s real es­tate and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment arm.

“It’s much more sim­ple for us, we have our res­i­dents’ safety and the value of busi­ness on the line,” said O’Brien, not­ing the city has grap­pled this year with record rain and flood­ing. “Re­gard­less of what sci­ence says or what the White House says, the re­al­ity is we have these events and we have to act.”

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