Earth Day 2021

Kentucky Politicians and Their Struggle Talking About the Environment

For years Kentucky politicians have talked out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to protecting the environment and climate change.

The double talk comes largely from Kentucky’s status as a coal-producing state. 

Even though the free market has determined the cost of mining coal is too high compared to natural gas and other resources and older coal-fired power plants are too inefficient, there’s nearly always a plank offered to coal producing communities.  

On this Earth Day, which was dreamed up in 1970 to educate about the climate, millions around the globe will reflect on this year’s theme “restore our Earth.” Those who take today seriously are trying to innovate new solutions using technology to restore the ecosystem. 

In Kentucky, before we can get to solutions we should probably agree there’s a problem. 

Here’s a quick look at where Kentucky politicians are at on the issue of climate change.

Former Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft, an often-mentioned candidate for governor in 2023, has both agreed and disagreed with climate change. Craft drew criticism during her time as Canadian Ambassador telling a local news outlet she believes “both sides” of climate science. Watch the video of her comments here.

I moderated a debate on cn|2 Pure Politics with the Republican candidates for governor in 2015 – all of them denied climate change was man-made, saying protecting coal jobs was the priority. 

Matt Bevin who would go on to win the nomination and become the governor said he disagreed with climate change. 

“I disagree with it,” Bevin said. “I don’t find scientific corroboration for it. I have found scientists that I believe are credible or more so than those that are calling for this who would say quite the opposite.”

Congressman James Comer, who then was serving as state Agriculture Commissioner, had no qualms with flatly denying climate change. 

“I do not believe in global warming,” he told me. “Weather is cyclical. I think we would all agree with that.” 

Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Sam Youngman watched the debate that night and recorded all of the c answers in an article.

Both Comer and Bevin are rumored candidates for governor in 2023, as is current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Quarles’ spokesperson sent Kentucky Fried Politics a statement from Quarles for this story, saying the key is to not overburden those he believes want to do the right thing.  

“Like many farm kids across Kentucky, I learned the importance of proper soil health and conservation practices at an early age,” Quarles said in the statement. “As Commissioner of Ag, I’ve promoted those commonsense practices as not only being good for the environment but also good for farmer’s bottom line. Part of my role as being president of the ag commissioners in the nation, we have conversations about climate all the time. The key is to not overburden our businesses and farmers who I believe at the end of the day want to do the right thing.”

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who told KFP he’s considering a run for governor, is the previous president of a recycling plant that his family still owns. He said there’s a “fine line between stewardship” and government-mandated action.

“We’re only given one body one life, we should be a great steward of it,” he said. “Same thing with our environment we should be good stewards of our environment and do all we can to make it a better place to live a better place for future generations.”

When asked by KFP, Keck went on to say the United States should be careful with large agreements like the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of limiting the total rate of temperature increase.

“We’ve got to be careful not to be the United States in a disadvantage to other countries who might not abide by it,” he said, signaling without China and India joining the issue it’s a waste of time for the United States to make changes.