FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s Republican governor wants to opt out of a federal program credited with reducing pollution while jacking up gas prices in the traffic-clogged northern part of the state.
The move, if approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, would let gas stations in the Cincinnati suburbs of northern Kentucky sell traditional gasoline instead of a reformulated version designed to reduce pollution. The reformulated gasoline costs more to produce, meaning gas prices in northern Kentucky can be as much as 20 cents higher per gallon than other parts of the state.
Northern Kentucky and Louisville are the only two areas of the state that fall short of some air quality standards. In northern Kentucky, the problem is ozone. The problem is exacerbated by emissions from vehicles and power plants.
In 1993, then-Gov. Brereton Jones, a Democrat, opted into a federal program to sell reformulated gasoline in those areas to help bring the state into compliance. The program worked initially, reducing pollution by 17 percent, according to Sean Alteri, director of Kentucky’s Division of Air Quality.
But since then, Alteri said technological advancements have improved emissions from traditional gasoline, enough that Alteri said there is only a “marginal difference” between emissions from that and the reformulated versions.
“Other things that have improved caused us to say we don’t need to do this anymore,” Charles Snavely, Gov. Matt Bevin’s secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, told lawmakers at a hearing last week. “We can prove that we maintain the same air quality.”
State officials say they are confident their petition will be approved because the EPA OK’d a similar request from Cincinnati earlier this year. Last year, gas prices in Cincinnati and Covington, the northern Kentucky suburb just across the river, mirrored each other. But in May of this year, one month after the EPA lifted Cincinnati’s restrictions, gas prices in Cincinnati were 15 cents per gallon cheaper than in Covington, according to data provided by state officials.
State lawmakers from northern Kentucky say they routinely buy gasoline in the capital of Frankfort instead of their hometowns. Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who represents Covington, displayed two of his most recent gas receipts: one showing he paid $2.29 per gallon in Frankfort and another that he paid $2.50 in Covington.
“It’s a substantial amount,” he said. “It’s a source of consternation.”
So far, the request does not include Louisville, which also sells the reformulated gasoline. Alteri said the cabinet is working with local officials there to “determine whether it would be an appropriate strategy for them.”
“I hope as we move forward we are not moving backwards,” said Democratic state Rep. Jeffery Donohue, who represents a portion of Louisville. “I want us to continue to improve.”
While the news was welcomed by northern Kentucky lawmakers, others worried about the potential impact any change would have on public health.
“I just wanted to remind you of your own mission: to protect human health is where we begin,” said Democratic state Rep. Kelly Flood.