Andy Beshear Says He Fights For Coal Miners. His Legislative Record Tells a Different Story.

Kentucky Dem governor refused to support coal power plant bill, backed anti-coal politicians

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D.) and poet laureate Silas House / Twitter
June 5, 2023

On the campaign trail, Andy Beshear has said that he fights for "Kentucky's coal country." As governor, however, the Democrat refused to back a bill that would make it harder to close the state's coal power plants.

Beshear, during a May bus tour, touted his pro-coal record, saying he "has worked hard to be an advocate for the men and women who work in our coal industry." But two months before the event, Beshear opted against signing a bill that introduced hurdles for utility companies looking to replace their coal-fired plants with green alternatives.

The Democrat in March refused to sign Senate Bill 4, a GOP bill that prohibits the state from approving requests to retire coal plants unless the utility can prove that the retirement would not diminish power grid reliability. The bill comes as Kentucky, like many states, experiences a decline in coal plants, a trend that the Kentucky Coal Association says could lead to power blackouts. While coal plants can be turned off at the flip of a switch, green alternatives such as wind and solar rely on favorable weather conditions to operate at full capacity, which can lead to power supply issues. "Have we not learned anything from the experience of Texas last winter and Europe today?" the association said in response to coal plant retirements. "Coal is reliable, plentiful, can be stockpiled for later use, and is cheap."

Still, Beshear declined to sign the bill, a decision that contradicts his campaign rhetoric and could come back to bite him as he faces a difficult reelection bid against Republican challenger Daniel Cameron. Kentucky is the nation's fifth-largest coal-producing state in the country, and coal accounts for 75 percent of Kentucky's electric power portfolio, making it the primary source of energy for the Bluegrass State.

Beshear did not return a request for comment. The GOP coal measure eventually became law despite the Democrat's refusal to support it—in Kentucky, if the governor does not sign or veto a bill within 10 days of receiving it, the bill becomes law without the governor's signature. During his bus tour, Beshear also touted an endorsement from the United Mine Workers of America—a union that hasn't represented coal miners in Kentucky since 2014 when the state's last remaining union mine shut down.

Beyond Beshear's lack of support for the coal bill, the Democrat in 2016 and 2020 publicly backed his party's anti-coal presidential nominees. In 2016, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton promised to "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," while President Joe Biden six years later vowed to shut down coal plants "all across America." Beshear has touted his support for both Democrats.

Biden's animosity toward coal isn't just rhetoric. The president's Environmental Protection Agency last month unveiled new emission standards for coal plants, which force them to slash their carbon emissions a whopping 90 percent between 2035 and 2040. The near-impossible task will force many coal plants to shut down rather than spend big to comply, experts say, an issue that motivated Kentucky Republicans to issue their coal bill.

"We have no control over the federal side. But we're taking a stance. At least we're showing our side of it here in Kentucky," GOP state lawmaker Tom Smith said. "Stand for our fossil. Stand for our production."

Beshear, who is the son of Kentucky's 61st governor, served as the Bluegrass State's attorney general before rising to the governor's mansion in 2019, when he beat Matt Bevin—then the most unpopular governor in the country—by less than one percentage point. Beshear will now face a more formidable challenger in Cameron, who succeeded Beshaer as Kentucky's attorney general in 2019, beating Democrat Greg Stumbo by 15 points.

Beshear has also appointed state officials who have a long history of opposing Kentucky coal. Beshear's pick to be Kentucky's "ambassador to the rest of the world," poet Silas House, in 2011 attended a prominent anti-coal mining protest and went on to blast lenient environmental restrictions toward coal in a 2011 New York Times op-ed. House on Twitter has also blasted a majority of Kentucky's voters as homophobic bigots—the Beshear appointee deleted the posts after the governor tapped him to serve as the state's poet laureate.