Kentucky editorial roundup
Posted 2:31 p.m. Wednesday
Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Herald Leader of Lexington on state government and renewable energy:
In an NPR report on Kentucky's growing demand for renewable energy, a state official said, "We're a coal state, we're sentimental about our attachment to coal."
Charles Snavely, a coal company executive for 35 years before Gov. Matt Bevin made him secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, also said that the cabinet is working with companies to develop renewable energy but that he struggles with whether "the growth of renewables (comes) at the expense of coal. Is it a bigger pie, or is someone taking a slice of our pie?"
Snavely's office did not respond to an email seeking elaboration, leaving Kentuckians to surmise that with thinking like his at the top, Kentucky should be ready to enter the 21st century about the time it ends.
Kentucky officials have long insisted that cheap — by which they mean coal-fired — power is key to retaining industries that employ Kentuckians. But now many of the world's leading corporations — including major Kentucky employers — want renewable energy, which Kentucky is unprepared to provide.
A report this week on NPR's "Morning Edition, entitled "Big Business Pushes Coal-Friendly Kentucky to Embrace Renewables," notes that Toyota aims to be a zero-carbon company by 2050. "General Motors, Ford, Walmart, L'Oreal and others also have big goals to reduce emissions. Even the state's beloved bourbon makers are starting to look at renewables."
Going green has PR value, but the bottom line drives corporations, which recognize that disruptions from climate change will be terrible for business. Also, the cost of solar and wind is dropping fast.
Renewable energy is in short supply everywhere. Kentucky, where coal provides 87 percent of our power, is caught especially flatfooted, hobbling us in the competition for investment and jobs.
It didn't have to be like this. In 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear released a seven-point strategy for prospering in a carbon-constrained future. Both major presidential candidates that year had pledged to combat climate change, and Beshear's energy secretary, Len Peters, a chemical engineer and former professor, never pretended that climate change could be ignored. But the fossil fuel industry unleashed a well-funded backlash against the newly elected Barack Obama, and the politics of energy became radioactive.
Beshear, who had coal industry backing, dropped one of his most important strategies: a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to sell a specified amount of renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro), thus diversifying the energy mix and reducing emissions.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have such mandates, while eight states have set renewable energy goals. Kentucky is one of 13 states that have neither.
Bevin touts that he came into power free of debts to special interests. He should capitalize on that by pushing Kentucky out of its "sentimental" attachment to coal and into the energy mainstream, where the jobs and investment will be.
The Daily Enterprise of Harlan on smoke-free law support:
Give House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell credit for honesty, if not integrity. He shrugs off smoking's intolerable toll on Kentucky because, as he told the Associated Press' Adam Beam, tobacco "has bought and paid for everything (in) my life. My house, my education."
Shell, 29, part of a Garrard County farm family, is following in the steps of Kentucky politicians before him who defended the tobacco industry on economic grounds, while it killed their constituents at the nation's highest rate from cancer and one of the highest rates from heart disease.
Shell and other House leaders blocked a bill that would have made the grounds of Kentucky's public school smoke-free.
After clearing the Senate 25-8, smoke-free schools got not so much as a hearing in the House.
But Shell's devotion to toxic air is putting him and the House at odds with Kentuckians. Support for a statewide smoke-free law has risen to 71 percent, up from 54 percent when the question was first asked in 2011, according to a recent poll. Opposition was down from 43 percent in 2011 to just 25 percent today.
Kentuckians — even 41 percent of smokers — favor prohibiting smoking in most public places, including workplaces, restaurants and bars. Democrats are more likely to favor such a law (76 percent) but 68 percent of Republicans voiced support when questioned by phone for the Kentucky Health Issues Poll, a random sample of 1,580 adults, sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. In every region, a smoke-free law garnered at least two-thirds support.
Bottom line: There is no political risk. The legislature could enact protections from the dangers of breathing secondhand smoke and voters would cheer.
A smoke-free law would be pro-business and has long had the support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce which says such laws lower health care costs "without negatively affecting business." The Chamber pegs Kentucky's annual smoking-attributable health spending at more than $1.5 billion and economic productivity loss at $2.3 billion. Kentucky's excessive smoking — usually the nation's highest rate — is an undeniable drag on economic development.
Kentucky has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into agriculture over the past 20 years to help farmers transition from tobacco.
House Republicans increased the punishments for criminals who sell deadly drugs. But what's legal also can be lethal. Tobacco use kills more than 8,000 Kentuckians a year, almost eight times as many as die from drug overdoses. That does not count deaths from exposure to someone else's smoking.
Why, when the losses are so huge, do lawmakers still bow to tobacco?
Altria (the company formerly known as Philip Morris) has spent $573,000 since 2013 to lobby the legislature. It's always one of the top spenders on lobbying our lawmakers.
In 2015, the House, under Democratic control, narrowly approved a smoke-free law, only to have it die in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Since Republicans took both chambers last year, there's been much talk of a new day under the new majority. But there's nothing new about Kentucky lawmakers who won't see the light through the smoke.
The Sun of Winchester on cancer research:
The recent announcement that the University of Kentucky was awarded $11.2 million from the National Institutes of Health for research on cancer and its connections to obesity could be vital to creating a healthy future for the entire state and, ultimately, the nation.
This addresses a significant need here in the state that continues to lead the nation in cancer deaths and continues to place in the top 10 when it comes to obesity.
Part of the bi-partisan 21st Century Cures Act, this funding is significant because it will provide vital support to the University of Kentucky's efforts when it comes to cancer research and developing comprehensive preventative and curative strategies.
Money cannot solve every problem, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to research and fighting for a cure.
As reported in Kentucky Today, the statistics are alarming, with more than 10,000 Kentuckians dying from cancer each year and with lung cancer killing 50 percent more Kentuckians than the national average.
The state also ranks in the nation's top 10 for mortality rates when it comes to breast, colorectal and cervical cancers.
Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr said the funds will be used "to support the University of Kentucky's groundbreaking efforts in cancer research, and commitment to training early career biomedical research, through mentorships and multi-disciplinary collaborations."
These dollars will also create thousands of jobs, which is not the primary objective but certainly a welcome side effect.
Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way — most of us very directly and personally.
A commitment to research will be the only way we can ever truly eradicate the disease.