Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:
The Independent, Ashland, Kentucky, on the region's economy being less coal dependent:
Some optimists believe the sagging coal industry in eastern Kentucky will rebound in 2017 if a Republican replaces Barack Obama as President. After all, President Obama is widely perceived as anti-coal and the GOP has much closer ties with the coal industry.
However, coal industry analysts say lower coal prices are a much greater reason for the decline in coal mining in this region than environmental regulations.
It is estimated that two-thirds of eastern Kentucky's coal output is now unprofitable.
"It's pretty bad for Kentucky," said Dale Hazelton, senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a leading energy consulting firm.
The price of coal, just like oil and natural gas, has fallen because there's a glut of supply and not enough demand, Hazleton said. Central Appalachia is by far the most vulnerable coal-producing area in the nation to the lower prices because our hilly terrain makes coal in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky the most expensive to mine.
About 70 percent of the coal production in eastern Kentucky and throughout central Appalachia is not profitable at current prices, Hazleton said, raising the risk of more coal mines being idled or closed.
The number of coal jobs in eastern Kentucky has already plummeted by half in recent years and continued to drop in 2014, reaching the lowest total since the state started keeping records.
Eastern Kentucky produces primarily thermal coal, which is burned for electricity, along with some higher-grade metallurgical coal, also known in the industry as met coal, which is used to make steel. Both types are struggling in the market downturn.
Central Appalachian spot prices have dropped by more than 30 percent since 2011 and are at $53.06 a short ton.
The estimate that two-thirds of central Appalachia's coal production is uneconomical didn't come as a surprise to Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, which represents mining companies throughout the state, although he thinks the figure "may be on the high side."
Bissett said the coal industry is struggling with the plummeting price of natural gas, which competes with coal in the electricity generation market. With cleaner-burning natural gas this cheap, power plants are more likely to choose it over coal.
Environmental regulations, Bissett said, also are adding to the cost of coal production, but Bissett said coal job losses, once at apocalyptic levels, have slowed and the mines in Kentucky now tend to be owned by smaller, more nimble, companies rather than multinational firms.
He said it's possible there could be another round of big job losses but "I think it's now more dependent on the health of the individual company."
Bissett said the hope is companies can weather the price downturn as well as the final years of the Obama administration. Environmental Protection Agency actions such as a plan to limit mercury and hazardous pollutants at coal-fired power plants have led Republican members of Congress to declare there is a "war on coal."
Hazelton agrees government regulations add to the costs, but coal's current problems are far more about the market than the EPA.
"You've got more coal than you need and prices just don't support much central Appalachian production right now," he said.
In sharp contrast to coal mined in this region, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, where large strip mines are common, 92 percent of the coal production remains profitable. Even coal in the Illinois Basin, which includes the mines in western Kentucky, is also cheaper to mine than central Appalachia and most of its coal production is still profitable as well.
In fact, Wood Mackenzie estimates 83 percent of coal production nationwide is still profitable. It's mainly in central Appalachia where the costs are exceeding the profits.
Hazleton said companies keep producing more coal at a loss, hoping they can avoid the huge financial hit of a mine shutdown long enough to outlast competitors and for prices to rebound. But the coal industry needs to cut production to get the supply and demand back in balance, he said.
It does not take an advanced degree in economics to realize the easiest way to cut costs and reduce production is to close mines that are losing money. Sadly, that includes a lot of mines in this region. Expect more mines in this region to close, making it even more urgent for this region to develop an economy far less dependent on coal.
Just as Kentucky farmers dramatically reduced their dependence on tobacco, this region's economy must reduce its dependence on coal. That's a much greater challenge than just switching to other crops, but it is something that must be done.
Herald-Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, on the wise law:
Almost one in four Kentuckians will be 60 or older by 2030, making them the state's fastest-growing demographic.
We should be doing all we can to provide the services they need to age at home rather than in institutions, not only because that's what people say they want but also because it costs less.
The General Assembly took a big stride in that direction by enacting a Medicaid hospital-to-home transition program.
House Bill 144, signed last week by Gov. Steve Beshear, will guarantee the services and care needed at home by eligible Medicaid recipients immediately after leaving the hospital, at less cost than a nursing home.
The newly streamlined eligibility process should eliminate a wait for services that now can be up to six weeks and often produces expensive emergency room visits and hospital readmissions.
By streamlining the eligibility process for such things as care attendants and in-home meals, seniors can also be spared from "being admitted prematurely to nursing homes, losing their homes, and experiencing increased impairment with longer recovery times," according to a memorandum by the Legislative Research Commission entitled "Supports For Family Caregivers Of Elders." (www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/rm517.pdf)
Commissioned by the legislature, the LRC memo also reports:
— About 735,000 Kentuckians are caregivers to family members. There will be fewer children to care for more aging parents in the future, so the pool of caregivers is likely to expand within families and to non-relatives.
— Kentucky's Medicaid program pays about $48,000 a year for a nursing home bed compared to $15,000 for in-home supports. But Kentucky lags other states in supports for caregivers such as respite care, family and medical leave and home health and personal care services.
— About 81 percent of Medicaid spending on long-term care in Kentucky goes to nursing homes and institutional care, compared to the median for all states of 69 percent. The growth of the senior population may outpace available Medicaid funds without a redistribution of spending.
The Beshear administration is in the process of enacting more in-home options that should begin to offset the pro-institution bias in Medicaid spending for long-term care in Kentucky. The new hospital-to-home law will dovetail nicely with the larger changes.
Kudos to the legislature's health committee chairs __ Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville — for shepherding bipartisan support for this much-needed change.
The new law takes effect in 2016. The next governor and the legislature should be sure to support it in the state's next budget.
The Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Sen. Rand Paul:
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is officially running for president of the United States.
This is very exciting news, not only for Bowling Green and Kentucky, but for the country.
Paul made his announcement before a huge crowd Tuesday at the Galt House in Louisville. National and international press corps were in attendance for the beginning of what will be a very interesting campaign.
We believe Kentucky's junior senator will be a viable candidate in a field that, to date, only includes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The field is expected to grow in the coming weeks and months.
Regardless of one's view of Paul and his politics, one can't help but be supportive of our senator. Paul, a darling of the tea party, already had a rather high profile before he announced, but more and more people across this country now will learn who Rand Paul is and what he stands for.
As a city and a state, we should embrace the senator's entrance into the 2016 presidential election. His entry into the race puts our city and state at a unique advantage of giving us national and international attention.
Paul also is making history by running for president. He is the only person ever from Bowling Green to run for president. If elected as commander in chief, he would become the first president elected from this state who resided here. Former President Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky but was an Illinois resident when he was elected to the White House.
If Paul is elected president, Kentucky would be in the unique position of having the two most powerful people in the country representing us, along with U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Bowling Green is a known town, but with Paul's announcement, it will be a much more relevant city because of his candidacy for president. Our city and state stand to get a lot of outside media attention after Paul's announcement.
This is a plus for our city.
While there is a lot of time until November 2016, Paul's entry into the presidential race is exciting. We look forward to seeing the presidential candidate in debates with other candidates and see how he does in the primaries next winter.
We could potentially be watching history in the making, and perhaps maybe one day we could be referring to him as President Rand Paul.