Erica Peterson

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

Rick Toomey, National Park Service

Citing drastic population loss, the federal government has listed the northern long-eared bat as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. This is the first bat species to be protected under the act solely because of the toll the disease white nose syndrome has taken on its population.

White nose syndrome is caused by a white fungus, and it’s deadly to bats. Since 2006, it’s killed nearly 6 million bats in five Canadian provinces and 25 states, including Kentucky.

Under the Endangered Species Act, species can be listed as either “threatened” or “endangered.” White nose syndrome has affected the northern long-eared bat to “the point that it’s basically a species that could become endangered in the foreseeable future,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Georgia Parham. “And this designation of ‘threatened’ extends some of the protections of the Endangered Species Act to this species.”

The northern long-eared bat is found across Kentucky, as well as throughout many Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. Parham said these bats are among the hardest-hit by white nose syndrome, and are the first to be protected under federal law solely because of the diseases.

“Now, white nose has affected other bat species, and some of those are already endangered—the Indiana bat is a good example,” she said. “It was listed as endangered back in the ’60s and it has been affected by white nose syndrome, but it was already listed before that happened.”

The new federal designation for the bat goes into effect on May 4. It makes it illegal to harm, harass, capture or kill the northern long-eared bat, and also puts certain restrictions on human activities in the bats’ natural habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service also is proposing a separate rule that will exempt certain activities—including forest management practices and the removal of hazardous trees—under some circumstances in the bats’ habitat, because regulators don’t believe those activities will affect the bats.

Petr Kratochvil, publicdomainpictures.net

The U.S. has submitted its carbon emissions reduction plan to the United Nations, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already warning the rest of the world that America may not follow through on it.

Today is the informal deadline for nations to submit their plans to the U.N., prior to global climate talks scheduled for December in Paris. The U.S. plan includes carbon dioxide reductions of 26 to 28 percent over 2005 levels by 2025, which is the same promise President Obama made last year in an address in China.

But Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is advising the rest of the world to think twice before making similar carbon reduction pledges.

“Even if the job-killing and likely illegal Clean Power Plan were fully implemented, the United States could not meet the targets laid out in this proposed new plan,” he said in a released statement. “Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal.”

McConnell has been a vocal critic of the Clean Power Plan, which is the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most recently, he urged all 50 states to delay submitting compliance plans to the federal government and to instead wait to see if legal challenges to the rule are successful. If the EPA’s rule prevails and states haven’t created customized plans to meet the goals, they’ll have to follow the federal blanket plan instead.

But McConnell’s latest statement is an echo of the recent letter sent by all 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders. The letter warned Iran that any nuclear weapon agreements reached with the Obama Administration could be revoked or modified any time by Congress or the next U.S. president.

Petr Kratochvil, publicdomainpictures.net

None of Kentucky’s leading candidates for governor support creating a state plan to comply with upcoming federal carbon dioxide regulations.

Democrat Jack Conway and Republicans Hal Heiner, James Comer and Will T. Scott all say they would not continue the work of Gov. Steve Beshear’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to create a plan to reduce the commonwealth’s carbon dioxide emissions.

A former state mine inspector plans to plead guilty to bribery charges in federal court next week.

Kelly Shortridge was indicted in October, along with former Democratic legislator Keith Hall. Federal prosecutors allege that Hall paid Shortridge $46,000 over a five year period to ignore violations at a Pikeville mine Hall owned.

Shortridge is also accused of attempting to extort Hall; he allegedly told Hall that if he didn’t pay him owed money he’d get another inspector to cite Hall’s mine for serious violations. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Shortridge’s attorney indicated he will enter a plea deal to one count of bribery.

The charge could bring up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Shortridge is scheduled to appear in court in Lexington next Wednesday.

Petr Kratochvil, publicdomainpictures.net

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging states to delay creating their own plans to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations, in hopes legal action will force the EPA to jettison the rules.

In an opinion piece published earlier this week by the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell laid out his objections to the regulations, which are meant to reduce the U.S.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon emissions from sources like fossil fuels are contributing to climate change worldwide.

McConnell writes:

“So what are governors and state officials who value the well-being of the middle class to do? Here’s my advice:

Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class. Think twice before submitting a state plan — which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits — when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won’t be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.

For the first time in about a century, no union coal miners are working in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union miners were laid off New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down, the United Mine Workers of America confirmed.

“Appalachia was always a really tough nut for the union to crack, and I think maybe Kentucky was the toughest nut of all,” said labor historian James Green, author of a new book about West Virginia’s mine wars.

In retrospect, the fight to unionize Harlan County’s Brookside mine in 1973 was one of the last stands for the union in the commonwealth, Green said. The struggle was immortalized in the Oscar-winning documentary “Harlan County, USA.”

The decline of unions is a nationwide trend that applies to organized labor of all types. In 1983, 20 percent of American workers belonged to some sort of labor union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes. By 2014, that number had fallen to 11 percent.

But Green said the decline of the coal workers’ union is one of the starkest in the country.

“The steel and auto industries have managed to regroup and regain some hold,” he said. “Still, most General Motors workers are [members of the United Auto Workers union]. You can’t say that about most coal miners.”

Lawmakers in Kentucky and Indiana want to add “farming” to the list of pursuits their citizens have a right to enjoy.  However, environmental advocates say the measures impede the ability of state regulators to protect the states from environmental damage from farms.

Both Kentucky and Indiana already have “Right to Farm” statutes. Among other things, these laws prevent farmers from being sued by neighbors for nuisance odors. The new legislation would take things a step further.

“What this constitutional provision would do would enshrine it and elevate that right to a protected right that’s on par with our right to vote, freedom of religion," argues Kim Ferraro, an attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Ferraro says by giving farming those protections, it’ll make it very difficult to impose any regulations on agriculture in the future.

If the legislation passes in either Indiana or Kentucky, it will be on the ballot for voter approval in 2016.

Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville has reintroduced a bill that would order a comprehensive federal study of the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. The bill would also place a moratorium on all new permits until the study is completed.

The measure is called the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act—or ACHE. It was first introduced in 2012, and at the time, Yarmuth told WFPL he wanted to raise awareness of the effects of mountaintop removal.

“Part of the reason I wanted to support the bill and the sponsors did, was to call attention to this," said Yarmuth.  "I mean, this is not a benign practice. It’s not benign in any respect, environmentally or in terms of its health impact.”

Several peer-reviewed studies in recent years have linked mountaintop removal mining to birth defects and lung, heart and kidney disease. The practice is efficient for coal operators who want to mine thinner seams of coal, and often requires fewer workers than underground mines.

Flickr/Creative Commons

A new public-private partnership in Kentucky will help the state’s livestock producers control their animals’ excrement.

The project will direct more than $4 million toward planning resources and on-the-ground solutions designed to help keep excess nutrients out of the commonwealth’s waterways. This is an issue in Kentucky—and in many watersheds. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are used heavily in agriculture, but the runoff can cause problems in rivers and streams.

“In crop production, we utilize those nutrients to grow the crops we need,” said Amanda Gumbert of the University of Kentucky’s Agriculture Extension program.

“In livestock production, our animals are given nutrients through their feed, but then also we produce nutrients with manure. So, we have to balance that production of manure with the crops we want to grow without losing excessive nutrients into the environment.”

Erica Peterson, WFPL

A new analysis of products purchased at dollar stores around the country show that most included significant amounts of at least one hazardous chemical. The Campaign for Healthier Solutions tested 164 dollar store products—including several from stores in Louisville—and found high levels of chemicals like polyvinyl chloride, phthalates, lead and tin in 81 percent of them.

The products tested ran the gamut, from children’s toys to home décor to school and office supplies. Many were found to contain phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters that have been linked to birth defects, cancer, reproductive issues and asthma. Some had bromine, which is a component of fire retardants and is a possible human carcinogen. There’s no safe level of lead exposure for children; the heavy metal can cause brain and kidney damage.

In statements, the companies said they comply with all federal and state regulations:

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