Erica Peterson

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

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Environment
3:11 pm
Mon December 1, 2014

EPA Expected to Finalize First Federal Coal Ash Regulations This Month

Coal ash stored in a landfill at LG&E's Cane Run Power Station.

Originally published on Mon December 1, 2014 8:01 am

Four-and-a-half years after they were first announced, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the nation’s first federal rules on the handling of coal ash this month.

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Environment
8:45 am
Tue October 21, 2014

Study Shows Direct Connections Between Exposure to Mountaintop Removal Dust, Lung Cancer

A new study conducted by researchers from West Virginia University and Indiana University links mountaintop removal coal mining with health problems in nearby residents.

The study took dust samples from homes near a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia, as well as a control site far from mining in the eastern part of the state.

IU professor and study co-author Michael Hendryx says researchers exposed both human lung cells and mice with tumors to the dust. They concluded that the mountaintop removal dust promotes lung cancer development and helps the disease progress quickly.

There have been other studies on health problems related to mountaintop removal mining, but Hendryx says this is the first one with direct environmental data linking the process directly with lung cancer.

“I think if you look at the body of research from this study and from others that we’ve done, the types of changes that we see and the types of chemicals that we see in the dust, if you put it all together, then I think that we’re at a point where we can say dust from mountaintop removal activity increases lung cancer among the people that live there," said Hendryx.

The results of the study were published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Politics
6:08 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

Video Accuses Grimes Of Contradiction On Coal. But What Does It Really Say?

Alison Lundergan Grimes
Credit Office of Sec. Grimes

Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes isn’t being honest with voters about her support of Kentucky’s coal industry, according to a video released today by the conservative Project Veritas.

The video by James O’Keefe—who was widely criticized for deceptively editing a video about ACORN in 2009—relies on hidden camera interviews with Kentucky Democratic officials about Grimes and coal, but ultimately doesn't prove much about where she truly stands on coal.

The video was disseminated with a headline stating that it's Grimes' staff members who are talking.

But O’Keefe fails to get either Alison Lundergan Grimes or any of her paid campaign staffers on video. What he gets instead are county Democratic Party officials—from Fayette and Warren counties—and a field organizer. All say something similar to what Juanita Rodriguez of Warren County says when asked if Grimes is lying about her support of coal:

“Well, I don’t really think her heart is 100 percent in backing coal, but she has to say she is because she will not get a huge number of votes in this state if she doesn’t,” Rodriguez said.

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Environment
2:35 pm
Thu October 2, 2014

Kentucky's Largest Solar Array Will Be Built on an Old Landfill at Fort Campbell

A new solar panel array being installed at Fort Campbell will be the largest of its kind in Kentucky

A partnership between the local utility and state and federal government will build Kentucky’s largest solar array at Fort Campbell. The solar array will cover about 20 acres at the army base, and will produce five megawatts of power.

Kenya Stump, Kentucky’s assistant director of the Division of Renewable Energy, said five megawatts is enough energy to power about 500 homes.

The array will sit on an abandoned landfill, Stump said.

“The landfill itself wasn’t in a position to be utilized since it was already capped and just sitting there, so they had space,” Stump said. “So the array actually fits perfectly with the abandoned landfill.”

She said it’s only one example of using brownfields sites to spur renewable energy development, which is an initiative the Environmental Protection Agency has been working on for awhile. And in Kentucky, it’s becoming more feasible.

“I think as the price of solar is dropping, I think we’re starting to see a little bit more demand from the consumers to utilize solar resources,” Stump said.

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Health
12:33 pm
Mon September 15, 2014

New Data Shows Resurgence of Most Severe Form of Black Lung Disease in Appalachia

New data shows black lung disease is as common in Appalachia as it was since the 1970s.

The most severe form of black lung disease is at levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to new data from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

NIOSH has been testing underground coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia for the disease for 40 years.

In the data letter published today in a scientific journal, researchers say there has been a startling resurgence of complicated black lung.

This is despite federal laws that were supposed to control dust in coal mines and eradicate the disease. 

Evan Smith is an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg.

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Environment
1:59 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Bluegrass Pipeline's Developer Is Appealing Eminent Domain Ruling

The proposed Bluegrass Pipeline project stirred up opponents who were against the idea for environmental and property rights grounds.
Credit Erica Peterson, Kentucky Public Radio

Despite the fact that the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline has been suspended, the companies behind the project are appealing a circuit court decision that found they don’t have the right of eminent domain.

The pipeline would have carried natural gas liquids—like butane, ethane and propane—from drilling operations in the Northeast through Kentucky to processing plants on the Gulf Coast. The NGLs are used in manufacturing materials such as plastics and synthetic rubber, and some Kentucky residents expressed concerns about widespread water contamination if the pipe were to be built and leak.

In May, the companies behind the project announced they were suspending capital investment in the project due to a lack of customer commitments. This was after a number of setbacks, including a ruling from Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that the Bluegrass Pipeline wouldn’t have the power of eminent domain in Kentucky.

Representatives of Bluegrass Pipeline parent company Williams said at the time that the company would seek to use eminent domain only as a last resort, but they believed they had the power under Kentucky law.

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Regional
3:40 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Study: Smaller Mines Translate To More Cases Of Black Lung

Coal miners who work in small mines are more than twice as likely to contract the most serious form of black lung disease, according to a new federal study.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied more than 3700 coal miners between 2005 and 2012. They found that miners who worked in mines with fewer than 50 employees were more likely to both get complicated pneumoconiosis and show signs of abnormal lung functions.

Wes Addington is the deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. He says, it’s one thing to see that coal miners are still developing mild lung problems.

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Business
4:00 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Coal Production Increases in Eastern Kentucky, But Overall Trend Still Grim

Originally published on Tue August 5, 2014 4:12 pm

For the first time in a year, quarterly data shows an increase in coal production in Eastern Kentucky. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is rebounding. 

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Environment
4:15 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Kentucky, Indiana Join Lawsuit Against New EPA Regulations

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway

Attorneys General from Kentucky, Indiana and 10 other states are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over proposed greenhouse gas regulations.

The EPA has been required to regulate greenhouse gases—like carbon dioxide—since 2007, when the Supreme Court determined the gases posed a danger to human health. The lawsuit filed in the D.C. Court of Appeals on Friday takes issue with the way the EPA has proposed the regulations.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway joined the suit without input from the Beshear Administration’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. Conway referenced the lawsuit in his Fancy Farm speech over the weekend.

"In fact, you’re looking at the only Democratic Attorney General in the country who is standing up for our coal and our low electricity rates by suing the EPA over whether they even have the authority to implement these new rules," Conway said to the crowd Saturday.

Under the proposed regulation, Kentucky will have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 18 percent, and Indiana by 20 percent. But the way the emissions reductions are reached is left primarily up to the states.

Regional
4:25 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Part of Big Sandy Power Plant Approved To Convert To Natural Gas

Big Sandy
Credit Chris Morris/Flickr Account

The Kentucky Public Service Commission has signed off on a plan that lets Kentucky Power convert part of its Big Sandy power plant to natural gas.

The power plant in Eastern Kentucky has burned coal for half a century. But it’s facing new regulations on mercury and other toxic emissions, and Kentucky Power determined installing updated pollution controls would be too expensive.

Converting the smaller of Big Sandy’s two units to natural gas will cost an estimated $50 million, which will be passed on to ratepayers. The move will also keep part of the power plant open, and retain some jobs in the region. Last year, regulators approved a plan to shut down the plant’s larger unit and replace it with electricity generated at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia.

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