By Bruce Schreiner | Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday vetoed legislation promoting nuclear energy in coal-producing Kentucky, but stressed his objections dealt with an advisory board and not with the use of nuclear power.

Beshear said he supports an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes nuclear energy. For generations, coal fueled the state’s economy but its dominance has slipped. Supporters of adding nuclear energy to that mix had touted the bill’s passage as a pivotal moment for Kentucky’s energy future.

The governor’s criticism focused on the method to select voting members on the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority, which would nurture the development of nuclear power. Many of the members would be designated by private sector groups, bypassing the appointment authority of the governor or other state constitutional officers, Beshear said.

“The legislature can’t just say ’you in this position in the private sector and you in that position on a private sector association are automatically on a board’ and then given governing authority,” the governor said at a news conference. “That’s not the way the executive branch works, not the way that the power can be delegated to carry out the law.”

Senate Bill 198 was among a small batch of vetoes announced by the Democratic governor. The Republican supermajority legislature reconvenes in mid-April for the final two days of this year’s session, when lawmakers can vote to override vetoes. Beshear has signed a number of bills and continues to review stacks of other measures.

The nuclear bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, noted that it drew bipartisan support from lawmakers and said he will urge them to override the veto. In a statement, Carroll defended the process for selecting board members and said it doesn’t encroach on the governor’s executive powers.

“We intend for the advisory board members, representing diverse entities, to be selected by their respective organizations, thereby minimizing political influence in these decisions,” Carroll said.

When the nuclear energy bill cleared the legislature last month, it marked a milestone for Carroll, who has spent years striving to secure an eventual foothold for nuclear power as an energy supplier in a state where coal has long been king.

It also reflects the growing spotlight on nuclear energy. More than 30 nations, including the United States, recently committed “to work to fully unlock the potential of nuclear energy.”

The authority would be a nonregulatory agency on issues related to nuclear energy and its development in Kentucky. It would support development of a “nuclear energy ecosystem” meant to enhance the economy, protect the environment, support community voices and prepare the future workforce.

The authority would delve into workforce and educational needs to develop the nuclear sector. And it would set criteria for voluntary designations as a “nuclear-ready community,” signaling to the industry a community’s willingness for nuclear-related development.

In his veto message, Beshear said the state would be deprived of “meaningful oversight” due to the method of selecting the board members coming from the private sector.

“The governance and structure of the authority is not only bad policy, but it is also unconstitutional by giving the governor or other constitutional officers no authority to appoint or remove voting members,” the governor wrote.

The debate about attracting nuclear energy projects comes as Kentucky’s coal industry has declined drastically over the past two decades, producing about a quarter of the coal it mined 20 years ago.

But the Bluegrass State still generates about 68% of its electricity from coal, though that number has declined from its historical 90%. The power-generating industry closed coal plants amid cheaper natural gas prices and tougher federal environmental regulations.

Despite its decline, the coal industry still receives considerable deference from the legislature. As the nuclear bill advanced, supporters were careful to stress that the intent is to have nuclear energy complement — not supplant — coal as an energy source.

Meanwhile, Beshear signed an accompanying resolution that directs the state Public Service Commission to prepare for nuclear energy. It directs the PSC to make staffing and administrative preparations to be ready to process applications for the siting and construction of nuclear energy facilities.

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