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Kentucky editorial roundup

June 14, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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June 8

Lexington Herald-Leader on a state agency’s decision to not fight a judge’s ruling:

Kudos to the Bevin administration for not fighting at least one decision by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet’s decision not to appeal a ruling that Shepherd made earlier this year restores critical protections for the public against toxic waste from coal-fired power plants.

Rather than try to defend an indefensible permitting change that had been dictated by electric utilities, Secretary Charles Snavely and the cabinet now are working with stakeholders — all stakeholders, not just the utilities — to update regulations in response to changes in federal law.

Involving stakeholders in decisions — from environmental rules to public pensions — has often been productive. The administration should try it more often.

Gov. Matt Bevin has repeatedly attacked Shepherd, who, because state government disputes are litigated in Franklin Circuit Court, has presided over a number of challenges to our inflammable governor.

Kentuckians can be glad that Bevin’s grudge didn’t carry over to Shepherd’s power plant ruling. The cabinet’s decision not to appeal restores two important protections that the administration had eliminated: The public’s right to be notified of and participate in decisions about where and how utilities build landfills to hold toxic leftovers from coal combustion. Also, pre-construction review of such landfill plans by state experts.

You may recall that in late 2016, the Bevin administration enacted a radical reversal of the permitting process for disposing of power plant waste. At the time, Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, called it “the most reckless regulatory program” he had seen, a sobering superlative.

Kelley Leach, a Trimble County resident who owns property and lives near where Louisville Gas & Electric is building a coal ash landfill, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by FitzGerald. The defendants included Snavely and LG&E.

The rule would have eliminated public notice and front-end review by state environmental officials of the design of landfills for coal combustion waste. Reversing the cabinet’s earlier stance, the Bevin administration eliminated the technical reviews at the same time that the federal government tightened coal ash regulations.

Failing to catch flaws in the design would have cost electricity consumers if state officials later found that leaking or unstable landfills had to be rebuilt. The utilities would have passed on such costs to their customers — not to mention the risks to the environment and neighbors. “The self-policing approach,” Shepherd wrote in his Jan. 31 ruling, was “literally an accident waiting to happen,” adding that “only the short term economic interest of the utility industry” would have been served “to the detriment of the public.”

While no new coal-fired power plants are in Kentucky’s future, the state will depend on existing coal plants for decades, and those plants will continue to produce tons of waste containing contaminants such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute the water and air and harm human health.

The collapse of a TVA waste impoundment in Kingston, Tenn. almost 10 years ago set the federal rule change in motion. The cleanup cost was $3 billion. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed the first federal regulations on the disposal of coal waste from power plants.

The new rules call for ending coal ash disposal in surface impoundments, which means more coal combustion waste will be going into landfills. Weakening state oversight as utilities design and build new landfills never made sense. If anything, as Shepherd wrote, more extensive technical rules should require “additional oversight to ensure compliance.”

Online: http://www.kentucky.com

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June 11

Courier Journal says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been timidly pushing back against the White House plan to slap tariffs on American allies:

Where are you, Sen. Mitch McConnell?

Kentucky needs you.

What the Courier Journal warned about nearly a year ago is happening today: Bourbon is in the cross-hairs of an international trade battle, and the consequences could be dire for metro Louisville and the rest of the Bluegrass State.

In retaliation to President Donald Trump’s alarming plan to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico, Canada and the European Union, Mexico has imposed tariffs ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent against several U.S. imports, including bourbon. Canada is planning a similar retaliatory tariff plan.

On Wednesday, the European Union said it will begin imposing duties of 25 percent in July on numerous American-made products. And, yes, bourbon is included, along with tobacco products and appliances — all of which could severely sting Kentucky’s economy.

What does the adversarial tit-for-tat likely mean for Kentucky, which produces about 95 percent of the world’s bourbon? Jobs could be lost; manufacturers may see slowdowns; and there could be a crippling effect on the booming bourbon-related tourism industry.

So far, the Senate Majority Leader is timidly pushing back against the White House and Trump’s plan to slap tariffs on American allies.

“I don’t think anything good will come out of a trade war,” he said recently in Louisville. “And I hope we pull back from the brink here (because) these tariffs will not be good for the economy.We need to work this out in a way that’s comforting to everyone.”

Comforting? It’s time for action and mobilizing Congress to push back against the president, Sen. McConnell. It’s time to fight back against a shortsighted tariff war where the biggest loser could be the everyday Kentuckians who helped propel Trump to Pennsylvania Avenue.

A range of economists has given a thumbs-down to the tariff plan, sounding alarms that jobs in several of Kentucky’s signature manufacturing centers — bourbon, automotive and aircraft parts — could be lost.

The high-stakes drama comes at a time when the bourbon business is booming — and profits are flowing in — across Kentucky. The state’s $8.5 billion bourbon industry alone generates 17,500 jobs and $800 million in payroll. There are 16 distilleries under construction or planned in the state, including the ambitious Kentucky Owl Distillery in Bardstown.

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That’s why a trade war would slam Kentucky and hurt more than just the bourbon industry. Kentucky bourbon generates $825 million in federal, state and local taxes each year, with some $20 million in barrel taxes, the majority of which go to fund local school districts.

And if this battle escalates and the U.S. retaliates by slapping tariffs on other countries’ liquor, it would be a double whammy to companies like Louisville-based Brown Forman, which owns distilleries in Scotland, Canada, Mexico and Ireland.

The Trump administration said its tariffs — 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on imported aluminum from the European Union — are needed because overcapacity in those industries is hurting U.S. businesses. That is a threat to our national security, he claims. Should unfair trade agreements be reviewed and remedied? Certainly, but you do not solve the problem with unilateral tariffs on our closest international friends, such as Canada. Too much is at stake.

The Kentucky Distillers Association is hopeful that “continued negotiations will avoid a costly trade war and protect our allies and partnerships around the world.”

We are too.

McConnell has said there are better ways to address trade imbalances. He has counseled Trump about the importance of avoiding a trade war and will continue to discuss the issue with the president and his constituents, a spokesman told the Courier Journal.

The time for genteel chatter has passed. We need strong action to protect jobs and Kentucky-made products.

McConnell told Fox News the Senate will not pass legislation that limits Trump’s tariff authority. That legislation, from a bipartisan group led by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, would require congressional approval for any tariffs imposed for national security reasons. That’s a step in the right direction.

McConnell says there’s not much Congress can do, but he suggested that the bill’s authors, Corker and U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, could attach the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a defense policy bill that the Senate is to take up this month.

Let’s consider every option.

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Bourbon is our legacy.

Kentucky needs you to protect it.

Online: https://www.courier-journal.com/

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June 11

The State Journal on the Capitol’s two-by-two access rule:

Participants in the Poor People’s Campaign weren’t the only ones prevented from entering the Capitol on Monday.

Kentucky State Police guarding the door said a State Journal reporter needed to abide by the two-by-two rule, too. That is, only two people participating in the protest could enter the building at a time. Others needed to wait at the door.

There to document the event rather than participate in the protest, news intern McKenna Horsley was deemed to be “part of the group” and prevented from entering the building. Horsley — toting a camera, notepad, pen and cellphone — said she spoke to a Kentucky State Police officer who’s let her in the building before for other events. All she wanted to do was take photographs. The trooper’s response was that she needed to abide by the same rules instituted for the protesters.

Asked about the incident, KSP spokesman Joshua Lawson said she should have been allowed in the building. The rule didn’t, or should not, apply to media, Lawson said.

For that matter, the rule doesn’t apply to any other protests, he said. It was instituted specifically for the Poor People’s Campaign protest, he said, because of past actions, which included blocking a roadway and staying after regular business hours. Rather than arresting participants for criminal trespassing, troopers provided around-the-clock security. No one was arrested.

The Poor People’s Campaign also did not obtain a proper permit for inside protests at any of its five protests to date, Lawson said. The group made public its intent to be arrested during the protests, according to Lawson and a letter to lawmakers from KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders. For example, the Poor People’s Campaign is different from education rallies that drew thousands during the 2018 General Assembly session because teachers didn’t express an intent to break the law, Lawson said.

Anyone who attended the education rallies — many times larger than the Poor People’s Campaign — may remember that law enforcement effectively allowed participants to roam freely.

The two-by-two rule’s applicability to future protests will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Lawson said.

While new security protocols are understandable when there’s a significant threat, the limited-entry rule deserves additional scrutiny, particularly if news reporters are inadvertently denied access to the building. What’s more, selectively limiting entry for certain groups is a slippery slope. How will KSP determine which groups may be disruptive and dangerous? What rules will be used to govern applicability?

Online: https://www.state-journal.com

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