Thursday, March 11, 2010

Groups fight cap-and-trade legislation

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010 12:01 AM CST
Leaders of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. were part of a 26-county delegation from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois lobbying congressional leaders this week about the impact that proposed carbon dioxide emission legislation would have on the region and the need for federal help with Interstate 69 construction.

The groups, which have been working together for about 18 months, delivered their two main messages in Washington on Monday and Tuesday with one voice, according to Jody Wassmer, chamber president, and Nick Brake, EDC president and CEO.

"This was a very positive trip that was very well-received by the legislative delegation," Brake said.

Wassmer said: "We wanted them to know that the carbon emissions or 'cap-and-trade' legislation would have a serious impact on our region. We have three aluminum smelters in our region that provide good, high-paying jobs and spinoff jobs, and if cap-and-trade is implemented, the electric rate increases would be devastating to them and all industries."
The group also cautioned that if the Environmental Protection Agency implements lower emissions standards without Congress acting, that could have a negative impact on industries, Wassmer said. "No one on the trip is against clean air, but we are against dramatic electric rate increases," he said.

Low-cost utilities are a regional draw for economic development, the Owensboro officials said.

"The carbon emissions issue is extremely important to our largest employers," Brake said. "We have about 30,000 jobs related to the aluminum industry in our 26-county area -- the highest concentration of these jobs in the U.S. Anything that would make these smelters noncompetitive would be devastating."

A cap-and-trade system refers to an attempt to limit the total volume of carbon dioxide emissions that companies can have annually by issuing permits for each ton. After companies get the permits, they would be tradable and could be bought and sold. Companies that emit carbon dioxide would have to get enough credits to cover it.

A similar system was established with the Clean Air Act of 1990 to limit sulfur dioxide emissions. As with any legislation, the details are the sticking points.

Members of Congress from all three states are working together to ensure that new CO2 laws and regulations will not negatively affect local industries, Brake said.

The regional leaders' other main message was that Kentucky and Indiana are making progress on the construction of I-69 but that federal help is needed.

In Indiana, 65 miles between Evansville and Crone are under construction, and Gov. Mitch Daniels has said 65 more miles will be done before he leaves office, Wassmer said. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's proposed six-year road plan includes seven projects for I-69, he said.

"It's important for us to be here (in Washington) laying the groundwork for this," Wassmer said. "I-69 is important to all western Kentucky and is very big for our area."

When Interstate 69 is completed, Daviess County will be 15 to 20 miles from where it will intersect with the Audubon Parkway just three miles southeast of Henderson. Upgrading the Audubon to become an Interstate spur is part of that plan.

The collaboration within the 26-county region began at the Regional Economic Summit in November 2008. "We're recognizing that anything that benefits economic development for one of our counties benefits all of us," Brake said.

The leadership group also included economic development and chamber heads from Henderson, Evansville, northwest Kentucky and southeastern Illinois.

They met with the U.S. Senate's assistant majority leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and Indiana's Richard Lugar, the state's senior senator.

They also held meetings with U.S. Reps. Brett Guthrie and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, and John Shimkus and Tim Johnson of Illinois.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,