Erica Peterson

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

Joseph Lord

This is a story about a virus that infects a fungus.

The fungus causes white-nose syndrome — a disease that’s affecting bats in 29 states, including Kentucky. Bats with white-nose syndrome act strangely; they often lose the fat reserves that are necessary to survive the hibernating winter months, then leave caves in the winter and die.

Scientists estimate that so far, white-nose syndrome is fatal for anywhere from 90 to 100 percent of bats with the disease. Since 2006, it’s killed more than six million bats in North America.

Erica Peterson

President-Elect Donald Trump has said he will revoke numerous federal regulations when he takes office, including the Obama administration’s rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But while Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency may choose to turn a blind eye when it comes to enforcing the standard, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan entirely may be easier said than done.

More than two dozen other states and state agencies are already suing to overturn the regulation, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Erica Peterson

Residents of Kentucky’s coal counties are holding out hope that next year will bring the passage of the RECLAIM Act — legislation meant to free a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.

The original RECLAIM Act was introduced in February by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and 27 other representatives. But despite its bipartisan support, the bill never moved out of committee. Now, another version has been introduced in the Senate.

Erica Peterson

Overall, Kentucky is getting drier. Droughts are becoming a more common occurrence — affecting everything from agriculture to the frequency of forest fires.

But despite the fact that we’re seeing overall less rain, there’s more coming all at once.

“You can already see this in observational records, that the downpours are getting more extreme,” said Andreas Prein.

He’s a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and his new study released Monday quantifies how much regions across the country can expect storm intensity and frequency to increase by the end of the century, due to climate change.

There are significant implications for urban areas when lots of rain comes all at once, overflowing sewers, flooding and stormwater runoff. But intense rainfall is also a real problem for Kentucky’s farmers.

Erica Peterson

The proposed conversion of a natural gas pipeline across Kentucky is moving forward.

Friday is the final day to comment on a draft environmental assessment that found the project would have no significant environmental impacts. But environmental groups and residents affected by the pipeline say the project deserves a more thorough analysis.

In 2013, energy company Kinder Morgan announced it planned to stop carrying natural gas through the 1,400-mile Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Instead, it would convert the pipeline to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) and reverse its flow.

NGLs are the byproduct of drilling for natural gas and contain hydrocarbons like butane, ethane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics and other materials.

LG&E/KU

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities are planning a new way to offer solar energy to residential customers.

The utilities are seeking permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to build a 4 megawatt community solar field in Shelby County. LG&E and KU ratepayers who want solar energy, but for whatever reason can’t install it on their own properties, can pay a fee for a share of the solar field and get a credit on their utility bills for the solar energy that share generates.

“We continue to see an increased interest from customers for renewable energy,” said LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt. “If this were to be approved, this type of program is ideal for customers who want to support local solar energy but are unable to install it on their own property or would prefer to avoid upfront or long-term costs. It’s especially appealing for renters or those customers who may have properties predominantly in shade or may have deed restrictions.”

Erica Peterson

A non-profit is recommending a Kentucky coal plant retire sooner than planned.

The Elmer Smith plant in Owensboro is old — it initially went into service in 1964. And over the past few years, it’s become a target for environmental groups, who point to the plant’s age and emissions, saying the upgrades it would take to comply with upcoming pollution regulations make it uneconomical to keep burning coal there.

At the request of the Sierra Club, the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied several documents from Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which owns and operates the Elmer Smith plant. IEEFA concluded that retiring the plant’s two units sooner rather than later would be the least-cost option for ratepayers, and urged the utility to consider replacing the capacity with renewable energy.

Among the problems IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schissel flagged in his analysis of Elmer Smith was that the area’s demand for electricity has remained relatively flat since 2004. So since then, the plant has been producing more power than it needs to supply its ratepayers. OMU sells the excess power on the wholesale market, but for only a fraction of its cost.

Wikimedia Commons

A coalition of environmental groups is formally protesting the upcoming auction of federal lands in Western Kentucky for possible oil and gas drilling.

The administrative protest was filed last week by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kentucky Conservation Committee, the Sierra Club and others.

At issue is the proposed auction of 184 acres in Union County. The land is part of the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area; in total, the WMA is more than 11,000 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and licensed to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management wants to auction off the land’s oil and gas leases in September, though they note that the leases won’t include any surface disturbance.

Erica Peterson

A new board to develop strategies for agricultural water use in Kentucky is closer to its first meeting.

The Kentucky Water Resources Board was created during this year’s General Assembly. The board was formed to provide state regulators with recommendations on water use efficiency, as well as develop a water conservation strategy for the state’s agricultural sector.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles supported the legislation and will serve on the newly-formed board. He says water is one of Kentucky’s greatest resources, and the board will focus on making sure the resource is managed responsibly into the future.

“I’m excited that Kentucky is playing a proactive role,” Quarles said. “We’re not reacting to a problem, we’re trying to get out in front of it so we can better align the needs of Kentuckians and balance those with production, agriculture and other industries.”

Erica Peterson

There are lots of factual ways to describe coal: carbon-rich, abundant, fossil fuel. But Republicans would like to add one more to the list: clean.

In the national GOP’s draft platform — leaked earlier this week — the party lays out its position on a number of issues, including the role it believes coal should play in America’s energy production. The share of U.S. electricity produced by coal is at the lowest point in more than half a century; in 2015, it accounted for 33 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

Coal’s recent problems have been numerous: It’s getting harder to reach reserves in Appalachia, it’s facing competition from cheaper natural gas, and utilities are choosing to retire older coal-fired plants rather than update them to comply with new environmental regulations.

But the Republican draft platform doubles down on coal.

Erica Peterson

Even in what has historically been the country’s coal-fired stronghold, coal’s share of the electricity market is declining. The drop of coal-fired electricity generation in the Southeast — and a corresponding rise in natural gas and renewables — is reflecting what’s happening to the nation as a whole.

The Southern States Energy Board released its regional energy profile last week. The SSEB is an interstate compact made up of elected officials from 16 Southern states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Kentucky is part of the compact, as are neighboring states like Missouri, West Virginia and Tennessee.

“The states that have been predominantly coal in the past are seeing some of the same pressures [as the rest of the country],” said SSEB Senior Technical Analyst Gary Garrett.

Erica Peterson

The fiscal court in Boyle County, Kentucky and the Danville City Commission have formally approved resolutions opposing a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline that would cross the county.

Both bodies are also asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an environmental impact study before granting approval for the conversion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline is already in the ground, carrying natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico through Kentucky. But the proposal by company Kinder Morgan would reverse the pipeline’s flow and convert it to instead carry natural gas liquids.

NGLs are the byproducts of natural gas drilling: hydrocarbons such as ethane, butane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics, synthetic rubber and antifreeze, but they also include health hazards and the risks of water or soil contamination if a leak occurs.

Creative Commons

Kentuckians who bought Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” cars will receive restitution, and the state will get millions to offset pollution. The details of the settlement were announced Tuesday.

Dozens of class action lawsuits were filed last year after the German car company admitted it had rigged many of its vehicles to cheat emissions tests. These cars — including 2009-2015 Jettas, 2010-2015 Audi A3s and Golfs, and 2012-2015 Beetles and Passats — were billed as “clean diesel.” In fact, they emitted more pollution than was advertised.

Louisville attorney Alex Davis filed an initial class action lawsuit on behalf of local Volkswagen owner Robert Wagner and others. That lawsuit was eventually consolidated with others filed by attorneys and state attorneys general.

“We’re still evaluating the details; this is a very complicated settlement,” Davis said. “But my initial impression is that this is going to go a long way toward making things right with all of Volkswagen’s customers.”

Creative Commons

It’s going to be a hot next few weeks in Louisville, with temperatures projected to reach the upper 80s or 90s almost every day.

Flavio Lehner says to get used to it.

Lehner, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, is the author of a study on summer temperature projections. Using climate forecasting data, he and his colleagues found that if carbon dioxide emissions continue on their current pace, it’ll translate to hotter summers for most of the globe.

“Towards the end of this century, under a scenario where we continue emitting greenhouse gas unabated, you will see a very large chance that basically every summer in most parts of the world will be as hot or hotter than the hottest we’ve seen up to date,” Lehner said.

J. Tyler Franklin

A survey has found some interesting takeaways about Kentuckians’ attitudes toward climate change, including that the biggest influence on beliefs may be political affiliation rather than scientific knowledge.

There have been numerous studies about attitudes toward climate change around the country, but very few have looked at Kentucky specifically. For her master’s thesis at Kentucky State University, Jennifer Hubbard-Sanchez surveyed 229 Kentuckians about their climate change beliefs and knowledge.

Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth’s climate is changing, and humans are contributing to that change. And Hubbard-Sanchez found that the majority of Kentuckians (about 70 percent) agree. But she also found some unexpected relationships between climate change beliefs and climate science knowledge.

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