Erica Peterson

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

Erica Peterson

A bill under consideration in Kentucky’s General Assembly would eliminate state mine inspections, a move that a safety advocate said would have adverse effects on mine safety in Kentucky.

Senate Bill 297 was introduced last week by Sen. Chris Girdler, a Republican from Somerset. It would repeal parts of Kentucky law that require state mine inspectors to examine underground coal mines at least six times a year, and other coal mines at least every six months.

The bill’s text reads:

“Whereas the coal industry has been regulated by both the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Division of Mine Safety during a time of economic downturn in the coal industry, which places an undue burden on the regulated community, an emergency is declared to exist, and this Act takes effect upon its passage and approval by the Governor or upon its otherwise becoming law.”

Both state and federal regulatory agencies inspect Kentucky coal mines, but mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard said the inspections complement, rather than duplicate, each other. And he added that while the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration attaches a monetary penalty for every citation it issues, it’s rare for state inspectors to levy civil fines.

Jacob Ryan, WFPL

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has filed a lawsuit against a second Kentucky abortion provider, alleging the facility provided abortions without a license.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Eubanks & Marshall of Lexington, PSC, which does business as EMW Women’s Clinic. It alleges the clinic wasn’t properly licensed, and didn’t have proper transfer agreements in place with a hospital and ambulance service. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services filed the lawsuit.

“Last month it was brought to our attention that EMW in Lexington is operating without a license,” said CHFS Secretary Vickie Yates Glisson in a press release. “Our inspectors visited the location and confirmed that EMW is unlicensed and does not have the required ambulance transfer agreement in place to protect women in the case of emergency. Furthermore, the inspector found the facility in an unsanitary condition. Regrettably, the location had not been inspected since 2006. There are laws in place to protect our citizens, and we will ensure the laws are upheld.”

Jake Ryan, WFPL News

Under changes that go into effect next month, Kentucky and every other state will have to assess the risks posed by climate change in its hazard mitigation plan.

Every state is required to submit such a plan to the Federal Emergency Management Agency every five years. And now, for the first time, FEMA has changed its guidelines to require that states don’t just examine and plan for the risks they have faced in the past, but analyze how climate change could affect the severity and frequency of events like flooding, droughts and heat waves.

The agency says preparing for these risks is necessary, as these weather events become more common. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month that 2015 was the hottest year on record globally, and extreme heat is affecting more Americans every year. The agency also says flooding is posing an increased risk to human health and the nation’s economy.

Erica Peterson

Nearly all of Kentucky’s federal representatives have formally filed a document in support of a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide regulations.

The EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan last summer. It sets carbon reduction goals for each state, and is part of President Obama’s overall goal of addressing climate change. Almost immediately, a coalition of states — including Kentucky — and industry groups sued to overturn the rule.

The lawsuit is set to be heard in June by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court issued a stay, blocking the regulations from going into effect until all legal challenges are settled.

The amicus brief filed today by more than 200 U.S. senators and representatives supports the challenges against the EPA’s rule. All of Kentucky’s Republican senators and congressmen — which is all of the state’s federal delegation except for Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville — signed on to the brief.

Wikimedia Commons

The future of Kentucky’s controversial changes to a water quality standard is up in the air, after a settlement last year sent the changes back for federal review.

Selenium is a naturally occurring substance that’s released into waterways during strip mining. In large amounts, it’s toxic to both aquatic life and humans. The substance also bioaccumulates up the food chain, so as fish eat other fish, levels of selenium rise.

In November 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency approved changes to Kentucky’s water quality standard that changed the way selenium was measured. The state had requested permission to do away with the chronic — or long-term — standard, and instead institute a two-part process: If water testing reveals levels above a certain benchmark, it triggers fish tissue testing.

The EPA signed off on the changes, but environmental groups sued. In October, all the parties reached an agreement that sent Kentucky’s selenium standard back to the EPA for reconsideration. Part of that involves consulting the Endangered Species Act, which the agency was required to do and hadn’t completed the first time around.

Wikimedia Commons

A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul would allow Fort Knox to continue producing natural gas to power the Army base.

Almost a year ago, Fort Knox became the first U.S. base to generate all of its own electricity. The move was spurred by the region’s 2009 ice storm; parts of Fort Knox lost power for nearly a week and highlighted the national security need for the base to become self-sufficient.

“It was pretty devastating, and Fort Knox was without power for upwards of seven days in some places,” Fort Knox Energy Manager R.J Dyrdek said in March.

The transition was helped by the discovery of natural gas reserves under the property. Now, Fort Knox is powered by a mixture of solar power, on-site natural gas and geothermal. In 2013, the post unveiled the largest solar panel array on a military installation east of the Mississippi River.

Developing natural gas resources on federal lands usually falls to the Department of the Interior. The bill introduced last week by Paul, a Republican, would make Fort Knox an exception and allow the Department of Defense to keep producing natural gas to power the site.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL News

In one of his first community meetings since taking office, Gov. Matt Bevin spoke Friday with residents in Hazard about the decline of the coal industry and the area’s economic depression.

Kentucky has lost more than 11,000 coal industry jobs since 2009, and the Eastern Kentucky coalfields have been the hardest hit. Numerous factors have contributed to the decline: competition from natural gas, environmental regulations and rising production costs. But for the past eight years, many Kentucky politicians have placed the blame solely on President Barack Obama and his environmental policies.

Bevin largely stayed away from using the “war on coal” rhetoric* during his community meeting in Hazard, though he did include several pointed mentions of EPA “overreach” and blamed Obama for the region’s woes.

“The EPA and this current presidential administration have absolutely gutted coal,” Bevin said. “Our current president said he was going to bankrupt the coal industry, and boy has he worked his hardest to make sure he’s done exactly that. I tell you, the fall of 2016 can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.”

Erica Peterson

The Kentucky Supreme Court denied a request on Wednesday by the Bluegrass Pipeline to consider an appeals court ruling that restricts eminent domain to regulated utilities in the state.

The Bluegrass Pipeline was originally proposed in 2013. It was a multi-state natural gas liquids pipeline that would have crossed 13 Kentucky counties, carrying NGLs from the Northeast to processing plants in the Gulf of Mexico. The project met a significant amount of grassroots opposition by residents concerned about safety issues and land and water contamination.

The pipeline company Williams officially put the project on hold in April 2014.

One of the factors that likely ultimately played into the Bluegrass Pipeline’s demise was the question of eminent domain. Kentucky law was murky on the subject. Williams representatives said they were confident the Bluegrass Pipeline would qualify, but some legal experts disagreed. Before the project was scuttled, a group of citizens calling themselves Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain filed a lawsuit, arguing that because it wasn’t a regulated utility, the Bluegrass Pipeline wouldn’t be eligible for eminent domain in Kentucky.

Erica Peterson

In the wake of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to temporarily halt the implementation of federal carbon dioxide regulations, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said it would also delay seeking public input on its compliance options.

The first deadline under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan was supposed to be in September. That was the month states were required to either submit a plan to comply with the rules or declare their intention to follow a federal blanket plan.

Last month, Kentucky Energy Secretary Charles Snavely announced the cabinet would seek a two-year extension. The EPA requires states requesting an extension to gather public input on their compliance options, and Snavely said the cabinet would do that via listening sessions around the commonwealth.

Now, the rule has been stayed until legal challenges are resolved, which will likely push the plan’s timeline back.

Erica Peterson

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to halt enforcement of federal carbon dioxide regulations until legal challenges to the rule are resolved.

The stay issued Tuesday evening is a blow to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets individual carbon dioxide reduction goals for each state.

Kentucky is one of 29 states and state agencies challenging the legality of the regulations. That lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but the Supreme Court decision will effectively block the implementation of the rule until the lower court acts.

The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the Clean Power Plan’s opponents. Kentucky, for one, had sought the stay in an attempt to get the litigation settled before the state invested time and money in developing a compliance plan for the rule.

Kentucky joined the lawsuit under then-Attorney General Jack Conway, and current Attorney General Andy Beshear is continuing the state’s involvement. In a statement, Beshear praised the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Erica Peterson

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers on Wednesday announced a bipartisan initiative to send $1 billion to coalfield communities.

The RECLAIM Act (which stands for Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More), is co-sponsored by Rogers and a bipartisan group of coalfields congressmen. The bill would send 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.

Rogers, a Republican from Somerset, represents much of Eastern Kentucky in the House.

“In Kentucky alone, we’ve lost more than 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Instead of allowing those funds to go unused, now is the time to help our coal producing states reinvest in the coalfields with projects that can create new jobs and reinvigorate our economy,” Rogers said in a statement.

“Many coal communities in Appalachia simply do not have the resources to reclaim the abandoned mine sites within their borders. This bill allows these communities to be proactive in restoring these sites and utilize them to put our people back to work.”

Wikimedia Commons

There’s still a lot of interest in the possibility of large-scale gas and oil drilling in Eastern Kentucky, but activity in the Rogersville Shale has slowed over the past few months.

The Rogersville Shale is a Cambrian-age formation that lies under much of Eastern Kentucky and extends into West Virginia. Over the past two years, speculation has grown that the shale play could be as big as or bigger than the Marcellus and Utica shales, which spurred a wave of interest in the region. Many landowners in Lawrence County, Kentucky, reported visits by landmen looking to lease their mineral rights.

Drilling into shale like the Rogersville requires large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting large quantities of water and sand into the wells to release more oil and gas.

Dave Harris of the Kentucky Geological Survey said so far, five test wells have been drilled into the Rogersville. Four of those are in Kentucky and one is in West Virginia.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky’s latest quarterly coal data continues a trend of bad news for the state’s coal industry.

The report released Monday by the Energy and Environment Cabinet shows in the fourth quarter of 2015, the state’s coal production dropped by more than 20 percent from 2014 levels. This puts Kentucky coal production at the lowest its been since 1954. Eastern Kentucky took the largest hit, losing a quarter of its capacity between 2014 and 2015.

With the decreased coal production came layoffs. More than 3,200 coal miners were laid off last year, with 1,000 losing their jobs in the fourth quarter of 2015 alone. As of December 31, 2015, there were only about 8,400 working coal miners in Kentucky.

And it seems unlikely that the industry has bottomed out. The report noted that most of Kentucky’s coal — 85 percent — goes to generate electricity at power plants in the Southeast. Three percent of that went to coal plants that retired in 2015. Another 13 percent went to plants that have announced their plans to retire units before 2019.

US Geological Survey, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

After a federal Court of Appeals rejected an industry-led challenge last month, a new federal rule to reduce coal miners’ exposure to dangerous dust goes into effect Monday.

In 2009, the Mine Safety and Health Administration began a campaign to end black lung disease, which is caused by breathing in large amounts of coal dust. The disease was in decline for decades but has experienced a recent resurgence.

“This disease is far from over,” MSHA Secretary Joe Main said. “Miners have suffered, families have suffered from this disease, and the time has come to fix this problem. And implementation of this rule will help us get there.”

Part of MSHA’s campaign includes federal rules to keep better track of the coal dust to which miners are exposed. Companies now have to take more dust samples, as well as sample for an entire shift. Over the next few months, coal miners working in the jobs with the most dust will have to wear small continuous personal dust monitors.

Kentucky State Government

Kentucky environmental advocates are worried that budget reductions called for by Gov. Matt Bevin will make it impossible for the Energy and Environment Cabinet to perform its basic functions.

In his first budget proposal since taking office last month, Bevin on Tuesday called for across-the-board 9 percent budget reductions to most state agencies.

From 2012-2016, the cabinet has already seen its budget reduced by nearly 16 percent, and has implemented those cuts in various departments.

The cabinet’s responsibilities include implementing and enforcing federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, plus mine safety, surface mine permitting and reclamation, forestry, oil and gas regulation and preserving Kentucky’s wild areas.

What specific state agencies would be cut, and by how much, would be up to cabinet secretaries, Bevin said on Tuesday.

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