While climate change may be one of the most urgent problems facing our country, the way this bill affects our production of electricity and the production of the fuel we use for our transportation needs in America may very well dwarf any climate change problems. The impact of this legislation on the American consumer will be immense and far reaching. It will affect the prices we pay to fill up our gas tanks, heat and cool our homes, and use electricity as well as the costs of practically all goods and services. It will affect jobs and local economies across the country, particularly those in Kentucky. While we all share a commitment to protecting our planet, we must be mindful of the sweeping impact legislation of this magnitude will have on every facet of our nation.
The cap-and-trade program established in the bill would perhaps have the greatest effect on Kentuckians. Cap-and-trade, or emissions trading, is a system which establishes a "cap" or limit on carbon dioxide emissions. Existing power plants would be granted a certain number of emission credits to cover their carbon output, but would be forced to purchase or trade credits with other companies that have excess credits should they go over the limit. This would make it virtually impossible to build new coal burning power plants.
This cap-and-trade system would have an enormous negative impact on the use of coal, a vital resource for Kentucky and the entire country. Today, the United States possesses enough coal to power the country for the next 250 years, with much of this supply coming from the Commonwealth. Kentucky produced nearly 126 million tons of coal in 2006, making it the third leading coal producing state in the country. The industry directly employs more than 17,000 people across the Commonwealth and indirectly provides 3 additional jobs for every miner employed.
Furthermore, coal continues to be the most economical way to produce electricity and proposals to hinder the industry would drive up electricity costs significantly. In Kentucky, we generate 92 percent of our electricity from coal. Under a proposed cap and trade system, it is estimated that electric bills in the Commonwealth would increase anywhere from 26 to 65 percent. Electric bills for businesses would also jump, driving up costs for all goods and services. During tough economic times, Americans simply cannot afford this.
The reality is, implementing a cap and trade program before Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies are available would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. I have always supported investing in clean coal technologies that allow coal to be used in clean and innovative ways.
All of us – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are committed to protecting our planet for the well being of future generations. It is essential that as we work to produce cleaner energy we balance the need for cleaner fuel sources against the need for protecting jobs in the U.S. and keeping our country competitive in the global market place. Rest assured as this legislation moves forward in Congress, I will continue my efforts to ensure that consumers are protected and that Kentucky coal continues to play a role in our nation’s energy portfolio.
— Ed Whitfield is the U.S. Representative for Kentucky’s First District, which included Logan County.