Partnering in Kentucky – Environmental Success through Cooperative Federalism

Mary S. Walker, Acting Region 4 EPA Administrator

By Mary S. Walker
Acting Region 4 EPA Administrator

As Administrator Wheeler visits Kentucky this week, I am proud to note the progress the Bluegrass State is making when it comes to environmental protection. The collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Commonwealth of Kentucky is an excellent example of positive environmental outcomes achievable through a cooperative federalism approach.

Here are some examples of Kentucky’s progress on air quality, taken from the Kentucky Division for Air Quality’s recently released 2018 annual report:

  • Over the last 20 years, statewide averages of sulfur dioxide levels have fallen by more than 90%.
  • Between 2000 and 2017, annual fine particulate matter concentrations dropped by more than 50%.
  • As of 2018, ambient air monitoring data demonstrate that all of Kentucky is meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

Given the advances Kentucky has made in protecting the environment, EPA has undertaken a series of actions to give Kentucky greater control in environmental regulation. Here are just a few examples:

  • On March 29, EPA approved Kentucky’s revisions to the Kentucky Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP), replacing the “one-size-fits-all” federal implementation plan (FIP) imposed by EPA in 2012. EPA took this action quickly – 14 months ahead of our statutory requirement – because of the importance to the commonwealth.
  • In 2018, EPA approved Kentucky’s SIP related to ozone interstate transport, avoiding the need for a federal plan.
  • Last summer, EPA approved Kentucky’s request to opt out of the federal reformulated gasoline program for the northern part of the state, easing fuel-cost concerns while maintaining air quality standards in the area.

All of these actions stem from our recognition that when states are allowed to take the lead on environmental protection, they can create state-specific solutions that maximize efficiency, reduce costs for their citizens, and ensure continued progress in environmental protection.

The Obama Administration imposed more than 50 FIPs on states. EPA has worked to convert many of these into SIPs, averaging almost one FIP-to-SIP per month since March 2017. This includes action on regional haze FIPs for more than a dozen states, including Kentucky.

EPA heard and responded to the concerns of Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in developing the proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which addresses the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The ACE rule would replace the 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and has never gone into effect. The ACE proposal is more consistent with the Clean Air Act as well as the administration’s commitment to affordable, reliable energy.

We are successfully rebalancing the power between Washington and the states as we promote state leadership in environmental protection, resulting in tangible environmental results for the American people. The citizens of Kentucky can breathe easier, as air quality improves and regulatory burdens decline.

About the author: Mary Walker is the the Acting Administrator for EPA’s Southeast Region (Region 4). In this capacity, she leads EPA’s efforts to protect human health and the environment in the eight southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as six federally-recognized tribes. Read more.

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