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OUR SHOT Frankfort owes region a chance on nuclear

By JIM PAXTON

We had concerns last week as the final days of Kentucky's legislative session dawned with an initiative long sought by our region once again mired in a House committee. We are heartened that it made it out late in the week with no substantial opposition. Our hope is it will be passed this week by the full House.

The bill would rescind Kentucky's decades-old moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants. It was thought when Republicans seized full control of the Legislature in the 2016 election that success for our region on this priority was finally at hand. But we later got the sense that the same eastern Kentucky coal interests that repeatedly killed like bills when Democrats controlled the House have not folded the tent.

We understand the political calculation, we suppose. The Kentucky House was until last year the last legislative chamber in the South controlled by Democrats. The party owed much of that staying power to strong loyalty in the eastern Kentucky coal fields. Barack Obama and his war on coal destroyed that, along with much of the eastern Kentucky economy. That produced a Democratic bloodbath in coal country in last year's election.

One can see how Republicans would take pause at the prospect of offending this newfound base of support. But shortchanging the party's longtime loyalists from the other end of the state is no cure for this dilemma.

The nuclear plant moratorium dates to 1984. Coal interests that did not want to see competition from nuclear power allied with their arch-enemies, the environmental movement, to push through a statewide ban on nuclear plants until the nation established a permanent nuclear waste repository. One was all but complete at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, a decade ago. But then Obama came along and scuttled the facility.

Former Paducah state Sen. Bob Leeper four times shepherded a measure ending the ban through the Kentucky Senate. This year's bill is actually named for Leeper in recognition of those efforts.

On the House side Democratic Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah tried to advance the cause during the two most-recent sessions with his own bill, which limited nuclear plant siting to the Paducah area. Despite assurances to the contrary, his Democratic colleagues each time pulled away the football.

We were a tad alarmed when State Sen. Danny Carroll of Paducah called a press conference last weekend to rally locals to the cause of passing the current bill. He said, "We'd like folks from our region to reach out to Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover and other legislators to move this bill forward."

It was a very diplomatic way of saying the measure needed a push, which it quickly got from the Chamber of Commerce and other local civic and business interests. We remain optimistic that it has been successful.

The Leeper bill in truth poses no threat to coal interests. Allowing a nuclear plant here conceptually is a far cry from actually securing such an investment. But more to the point, whether Kentucky does or does not allow a nuclear plant within its borders is irrelevant to the question of how many get built. The market will decide that, and with it, the impact on coal.

Nuclear plants do offer high-paying, long-term jobs. Our region has assets that give us unique advantages in pursuing one. All we want is our shot. Frankfort lawmakers owe it to our region to allow us one.

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