Erica Peterson

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

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.

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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.

The University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy is planting more hemp this year at the school’s Belknap Campus.

This is officially the center’s second hemp crop — the first was planted last August and yielded a few dozen pounds of plants. This year, there will be two different varieties of hemp growing, as well as kenaf. Kenaf is an African plant used for fiber and oils.

“Having the crops grow on campus actually raises awareness about the research that we have going on at Conn Center,” said assistant director Andrew Marsh.

LG&E/KU

Capturing carbon dioxide from power plants is, at least theoretically, a good way to reduce one of the top gases that contributes to climate change.

But in reality, it’s hard – and so far, inefficient.

Carbon capture pilot projects across the country have come and gone. But even though it’s technically over, the pilot project at one power plant in Central Kentucky remains. There, University of Kentucky researchers continue to test technology they say is cheaper and more efficient than others being tested around the country.

At Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities’ E.W. Brown Plant, near Danville, there’s a six-story open structure attached to one of the plant’s units. It’s a scaffolding-like maze of yellow, blue and silver metal.

Kunlei Liu stands under it, wearing a hardhat and safety glasses, ready to explain the intricate workings of the device.

Erica Peterson

After years of coal industry decline, Kentucky has fallen from the nation’s third largest coal producer to the fifth. Federal data released last month shows the 42 million tons of coal the commonwealth produced in 2016 was eclipsed by Pennsylvania and Illinois. Wyoming and West Virginia have long been above Kentucky in coal production.

But despite Kentucky coal’s dismal 2016, the state’s latest quarterly report is giving the industry hope that things may have steadied somewhat.

During the first three months of this year, Kentucky coal production had a barely perceptible increase — 0.56 percent.

Kentucky Coal Association president Tyler White said the fact that there wasn’t another drop in production is a good sign.

Erica Peterson

A Kentucky social justice organization has completed an ambitious plan for the state’s energy future.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth released its Empower Kentucky plan late last month. The plan is the result of two years of talking to people around the state about their vision for Kentucky’s future electricity generation.

It began as a response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which set carbon dioxide reduction goals for each state. Under that regulation — which is unlikely to go into effect under the Trump Administration — states were encouraged to create their own compliance plans. Amid uncertainty in 2015 and 2016 about whether state regulators would create a plan, KFTC announced it would crowdsource one.

Erica Peterson

A researcher at the University of Louisville wants to know whether coal ash is in homes in Southwest Louisville and how it’s potentially affecting the children living there.

U of L public health researcher Kristina Zierold is about halfway through a five-year study of the issue, and is looking for additional participants. Her study is looking at homes in Southwest Louisville and Bullitt County, within a 10 mile radius of either of the city’s power plants.

Coal is currently burned and stored at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Mill Creek Power Plant; the company converted the Cane Run Power Plant to natural gas in 2015, but ash remains on the site in a pond and landfill.

LG&E

Louisville Gas and Electric has reached a settlement with intervenors in the company’s rate case that’s pending before state regulators.

LG&E had initially asked the Kentucky Public Service Commission to approve a rate increase that would have raised the average residential customer’s bill by about $13 a month. The settlement agreement calls for a smaller increase — about $8.24.

One of the most controversial provisions of the utility’s proposal was the way it proposed to raise those rates: not by changing the rate people pay for electricity and gas, but by changing the basic service charge. The service charge is the flat rate that all customers pay, regardless of usage.

Berkeley Energy Group

In the first project of its kind, a Kentucky coal company is partnering with a global renewable energy giant to explore putting a major solar installation on a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Coal company Berkeley Energy Group and EDF Renewable Energy have been working on the initial phase of the project for more than a year. Although it’s still in the early phases, the plan includes putting 50 to 100 megawatts of solar panels on a surface mine site outside of Pikeville.

This would be the biggest solar plant in the state — potentially 10 times larger than the solar array at Kentucky Utilities’ Brown Station in Central Kentucky.

John Blair/Valley Watch

The plume of polluted water was black. In the satellite images, it snaked from the coal ash landfill at the D.B. Wilson Power Plant in Western Kentucky, about 40 minutes south of Owensboro. The water went through a ditch, until it reached a sediment pond. There, the images showed the black plume spreading through the murky green water, before it dissipated.

The black water — which state regulators described as having a “very pronounced unpleasant odor” — had arsenic levels that exceed the federal standard by nearly a thousand times. Regulators say it’s possible the pollution has been seeping from the landfill for more than a decade, eventually making its way into the Green River and potentially contaminating the groundwater.

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