Crafting Appalachia’s energy plan, using a homegrown approach

  • Kentuckians For The Commonwealth began in the 1970s with a group of concerned citizens. Today, the organization has a membership of more than 9,000 people. These members organize for a fair economy, a safe environment, fairness and equality, and a healthy democracy. Kertis Creative/KFTC

  • A more authentic democracy, a just and sustainable economy, and a clean energy future - these are the core values of KFTC and what drives its powerful organizing. On March 10, 2016, the Jefferson County Chapter held its 3rd Annual 'We Are Kentuckians: Celebrating Our Common Heritage'. Cicada Hoyt/KFTC

  • Chapter events are one of the many ways KFTC staff, such as Beth Bissmeyer, connect with community members on initiatives such as Empower Kentucky. These events offer KFTC a time to gather public input on the relationship residents have with Kentucky's energy system and also opens up a dialogue about the state's energy future. KFTC

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many states balked at the ruling’s challenge: to significantly reduce power plant carbon emissions by 2030 in compliance with first-ever national standards on carbon pollution.

In Kentucky, the ruling generated political fervor. The historically coal-dependent state is one of the biggest carbon emitters in the country, and a requirement to reduce its pollution by 41% means transforming its traditional, and many times, uncompromising energy system—a tremendous task.

So far, political leaders in Kentucky have been minimally involved in developing a new energy plan. But grassroots organizations like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth see an opportunity to build a plan uniquely shaped by and for the people of Kentucky.

“This project is as big and broad and ambitious as the opportunity we have,” says Lisa Abbott, an organizer with KFTC. “That’s daunting, but I also find that really exciting.”

In October 2015, Abbott and her colleagues at KFTC seized the opportunity to open the Clean Power Plan dialogue by launching Empower Kentucky. The initiative will organize listening sessions and public forums, conduct interviews, collect online surveys, and engage in door-to-door conversations with Kentuckians about ways to transform the state’s energy production and usage.

Many of the communities engaging with KFTC aren’t used to thinking critically about energy issues, though. Abbott is the first to admit that collaboration is key to growing the conversation. Organizers ask participants to think about their vision for Kentucky’s energy future, not necessarily their thoughts on the Clean Power Plan.

“We’re open to learning from everyone we talk to,” Abbott explains of KFTC’s 13 chapters involved with the program. “And we present the opportunities and the threats that come with the Clean Power Plan.”

Using the data and input they gather, Abbott and her colleagues—along with allies, consultants, and government agencies—will craft a home-grown plan that guides Kentucky’s energy transition as one that creates good jobs, helps people save energy and money, and improves public health.

The Empower Kentucky plan will be presented at a summit in June 2016, before states are required to submit their plans to the EPA in September 2016. Much is at stake as Kentucky plans its new energy roadmap, but Kentuckians like Abbott are hopeful that they can chart a course benefiting their state and their nation.

Update: a lawsuit by some states and industry groups challenging the EPA’s authority has resulted in a temporary stay against implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The case will be heard in lower federal courts in June, and a decision probably in the late summer or fall. As a result there is no longer a September 2016 deadline for states to submit their plans to the EPA, and KFTC has also postponed its June 2016 summit to a later date in the fall. 

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