Erica Peterson

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

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.

Erica Peterson

Monday night at his rally in Louisville, President Donald Trump repeated a campaign promise, telling the crowd he would revive Kentucky’s beleaguered coal industry.

“As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work,” he said. “The miners are coming back.”

But Trump didn’t offer any details about what those executive actions could be. He has already used the Congressional Review Act to roll back the Stream Protection Rule — which tightened environmental restrictions on surface mining, and had been in effect for less than a month — and has hinted in the past that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide regulations will be on the chopping block as well.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky regulators have approved a coal ash landfill for a power plant in Trimble County, advancing a project that’s been on hold for several years as regulators worked around concerns about the area’s geology and proximity to neighbors.

Louisville Gas & Electric has been seeking a permit for the site for more than five years. An initial permit application was denied in 2013, after a cave with ecological and possible historical significance was discovered onsite.

The Trimble County Power Station burns coal for electricity, and coal ash is a byproduct. So LG&E needs a place to put the ash, and began work on another landfill permit. Some of the ash is stored on site in ponds, but those are scheduled to be closed soon.

Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

A state Fish and Wildlife committee is recommending the full commission approve a plan to raise boat registration fees to combat the spread of invasive Asian carp in the commonwealth.

Asian carp are an invasive species, and they’ve been in the Mississippi and Ohio River basins for several years. They’re also in Kentucky and Barkley lakes in Western Kentucky. And once they make it into a body of water, they’re almost impossible to get out.

“They spawn so rapidly that their numbers are what the problem is,” said Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Marraccini. “The silver carp can get 20, 30, 40 pounds apiece each, and bighead carp can get up to 100 pounds, although we see a lot of them in the 50, 60, 70 pound range.”

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The Kentucky Public Service Commission has granted a Southeast Kentucky electric cooperative a small rate increase, but in doing so, ripped the utility for excessive employee pay and nepotism.

Cumberland Valley Electric had proposed a rate increase that — like the recent proposal by Louisville Gas and Electric — would significantly raise the monthly service charge. In this case, Cumberland Valley wanted to raise the charge from $8.73 to $14.10.

In its order, the PSC granted Cumberland Valley part of that increase, raising the monthly charge to $12. But the commissioners said they wanted to see significant changes in the way the utility hires and compensates employees.

Southwings and Vivian Stockman

Congress is enacting a little-used provision this week to turn back Obama-era regulations on coal mining near streams. The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on legislation that would block the Stream Protection Rule, and the Senate is expected to do the same Wednesday evening or Thursday.

House and Senate Republicans are targeting the Stream Protection Rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to block new rules that aren’t passed by Congress within 60 days of them going into effect. The Obama Administration spent eight years writing the rule, which is an updated version of a Bush-era regulation, but it wasn’t finalized until late December.

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.

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