Erica Peterson

Erica reports on environment and energy issues for WFPL, which run the gamut from stories about the regionââââ

Ryland Barton

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover says he’ll step down from his leadership position after reports surfaced saying he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit earlier this year.

In a statement to the media on Sunday, Hoover said he had acted inappropriately, engaging in consensual “banter.”

“But as inappropriate as those text messages were, I want to reiterate that at no time, at no time, did I engage in unwelcome conduct of any kind,” he said. “And at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind. There has never been a culture of sexual harassment, as some opportunist would now wrongly claim for their personal political gain.”

University of Kentucky

President Donald Trump is nominating a Lexington engineer to fill the top spot at the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Department of the Interior announced Thursday that Steven Gardner of Lexington consulting firm ECSI has been tapped for the role. Gardner has more than four decades of experience working with and advocating for the mining industry.

In 2011, he testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources on the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule, which tightened regulations on surface coal mining.

Gardner and others raised questions about the justification used for the regulation, saying the Office of Surface Mining had prompted his company to change key calculations to lessen the perceived effect of the rule on jobs and coal production.

Erica Peterson

It may be nicknamed “The Sunny Side,” but solar installations in Indiana’s Clark and Floyd counties are still few and far between. A group of volunteers is trying to change that, and their push has intensified over the past few months.

At Jeffersonville’s First Presbyterian Church, Tricia Tull points to solar panels on the building’s roof. The church installed 13 kilowatts of solar two years ago, paying about $3 a watt. This year, they added 15 more kilowatts.

Wikimedia Commons

For a lot of people in the region, August 21’s solar eclipse marks a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. But if you own solar panels, it means a day of less-than-ideal energy production.

Bloomberg News estimates 9,000 megawatts of solar production will go down when the sun is obscured by the moon — the equivalent of nine nuclear reactors. A lot of that is in California, which sources about 40 percent of its power from the sun. The eclipse has prompted a campaign asking Californians to reduce their energy usage on August 21, to account for the increased load on the state’s other power sources.

Gabe Bullard

There’s no dearth of research on health disparities in Appalachia. But a newly-formed group of researchers at Virginia Tech says there is a dearth of scientific research into why these disparities exist, and how environmental factors could be contributing.

In a literature review published online last month in the journal “Reviews on Environmental Health,” the Virginia Tech researchers call for more community dialogue on the issue, and more focused epidemiological research on environmental health effects in Appalachia.

Erica Peterson

New numbers from the first two quarters of this year show both coal production and employment are continuing to decline in Kentucky, despite President Donald Trump’s promises that miners would be going back to work.

Overall, Kentucky saw a nearly 10 percent decline in coal production between the first and second quarters of 2017. The industry shed 200 jobs during the same time period.

“Obviously, an almost a 10 percent decrease since last quarter is not what we’d like to see,” said Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White. “But I’ve always said that you don’t turn this industry around in a one or two quarter measurement.”

Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection

Pointing to years of documented pollution from a Central Kentucky coal-fired power plant, environmental groups are suing Kentucky Utilities. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Lexington.

The issue is ongoing coal ash pollution at the E.W. Brown plant, which is near Danville. The power plant also sits directly next to Herrington Lake, which is a popular recreation spot. But for the past six years, regulators have documented contaminated water flowing into the lake. Fish tissue sampling done last year revealed the fish in Herrington Lake have been poisoned with selenium, which is one of the elements present in coal ash.

WFPL News

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says her office will not release state voter data to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Trump, a Republican, formed the commission to investigate alleged voter fraud, which he has repeatedly claimed was widespread despite evidence to the contrary. As The Hill reported today, the commission’s vice chairmen sent a letter today requesting several pieces of information about voters.

Gabe Bullard

A U.S. House committee has advanced a bill that would send a billion dollars for mine reclamation and economic development in coal communities.

The RECLAIM Act was first proposed in 2016 by Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers. It authorizes the release of $1 billion over five years from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The money would be earmarked for cleaning up abandoned mine sites, as well as identifying and funding economic development projects on the sites.

Rogers’ spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Wikimedia Commons

Predicting the imminent arrival of an insect species that could devastate Kentucky’s sweet sorghum crops, the state Department of Agriculture has declared an emergency and is letting the commonwealth’s farmers apply a new pesticide to protect their plants. But the pesticide in question — Sivanto Prime — has come under fire from environmental groups who say it hasn’t been properly vetted and could pose a risk to bees and other animals.

Henderson Water Utility

A new study has found that people who lived in the Ohio River Valley between 1991 and 2013 have higher levels of a chemical called PFOA in their bloodstream than the national average.

PFOA, also called C-8, is a toxic chemical that was used to make products including non-stick cookware for decades. Its impact on health is the subject of ongoing study; even small amounts are thought to cause larger body mass index in adults, negative responses to vaccines and smaller birth weight in babies.

PFOA was manufactured, among other places, at the DuPont plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. That plant no longer uses PFOA, and as a result of a class action lawsuit and settlement, scientists found links between several types of cancers and PFOA exposure.

Erica Peterson

After being name-checked in two of President Donald Trump’s recent speeches, a new coal mine opened in Pennsylvania last week.

“Next week we’re opening a big coal mine,” Trump told supporters in Cincinnati. “You know about that. One in Pennsylvania. It’s actually a new mine. That hadn’t happen in a long time, folks. But we’re putting the people and we’re putting the miners back to work.”

The mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania is expected to employ about 70 coal miners. But while it may be cause for local celebration and useful for political rhetoric, it isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come in Kentucky.

Erica Peterson

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet has agreed to hold off on letting electric utilities transition to the state’s new, relaxed coal ash rules until litigation is complete, except under special circumstances.

The partial settlement was reached last week in the case pending in Franklin Circuit Court. It was filed on behalf of Trimble County resident Kelley Leach by Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council and names the Energy and Environment Cabinet and Louisville Gas and Electric as defendants.

Google Earth

If the dam failed at the Ghent Power Station’s coal ash pond, it would only take 20 minutes for the toxic coal ash slurry to reach a residential neighborhood in Carroll County. Near the Brown Power Plant in Central Kentucky, homes on nearby Herrington Lake could get five feet of sludge. And at Louisville’s Mill Creek Power Station, the homes across the street from the plant’s ash pond would have a foot of the contaminated water within 30 minutes.

These are the details included in Emergency Action Plans posted online, required to be made available to the public for the first time last week due to new federal regulations.

Wikimedia Commons

A board that was ostensibly responsible for reviewing coal miners’ training and reviewing all proposed coal mine safety regulations will hold its last meeting next week.

The Kentucky Mining Board consisted of eight members — three from labor, three representing coal industry management, one citizen and one state regulator. In pushing for the board to be abolished, the state Energy and Environment Cabinet said its responsibilities were duplicated, and would be distributed among other agencies and commissions. But mine safety advocates worry the move will end up harming the state’s approximately 6,000 remaining coal miners.

The Kentucky Mining Board has been in existence for decades, but was reorganized by Gov. Paul Patton in 2001. It was abolished by a bill that passed the legislature earlier this year, with little discussion or fanfare. The bill flew under the radar — so much so that board members weren’t aware the board had been dismantled until receiving a letter last week.

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