Erica Peterson

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

WKYU PBS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a new legal argument that he says will scuttle the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The EPA’s proposal—which hasn’t yet been finalized—will set greenhouse gas emissions reductions for each state. These greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are contributing to climate change. The plan is expected to give states the option of creating individual plans to comply, or to work with neighboring states to formulate a regional plan.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has been a vocal opponent of the EPA and the Clean Power Plan. Most recently, he urged states to hold off on submitting individual plans to the government, in hopes that lawsuits against the rules will prevail. In a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, McConnell told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that he believed he had found another legal avenue to oppose the proposal.

McConnell pointed to Section 102 (c) of the Clean Air Act, which requires Congressional approval for any multi-state agreements to reduce air pollution. And that Congressional approval, McConnell said, would not be coming.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing on Tuesday on Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities’ proposed rate increase.

Instead, as WFPL reported, the utilities and all of the intervenors in the case reached a settlement, which is now subject to PSC approval.

Here’s a deeper look at the settlement, what LG&E/KU got—and what they didn’t get.

Monthly Service Charge

This was the most contentious part of the original proposal because it would affect every customer, regardless of how much energy they used. LG&E electric and gas customers would have ended up paying $37 a month, up from $24.25. KU customers would have paid $18 a month, rather than the $10.75 they pay now. Under the settlement, there will be no change to the monthly charge, but the rates of electricity and gas will change slightly. The company estimates that the average LG&E bill will increase by about $1.15 a month, while the average KU customer will pay $9 more each month.

A new whitepaper released by Kentucky regulators in draft form last week quantifies the economic effects of rising electricity prices on jobs in the state and around the country.

The paper uses a hypothetical 10 percent across-the-board increase in electricity prices around the country, and measures the effects of that increase on various states and industries. The most vulnerable states seem to be those similar to Kentucky: ones that have both a carbon-intensive energy portfolio and electricity-intensive industries.

Overall, the paper estimates a 10 percent rise in the real price of electricity would result in the loss of more than a million jobs and $142 billion in the American economy. But despite these losses, the research found that most of the nation’s industries would be relatively unaffected by the increased cost of electricity.

Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters—who also co-authored the paper—said this information will help regulators decide what policies need to be pursued to protect the economy as electricity prices increase—whether that’s due to environmental regulations or market factors.

“We want to understand the dynamics, and we want to understand at least semi-quantitatively what the implications are,” he said. “We are using these analyses to guide us in directions that we think we should be going.”

A lawsuit that sought to have the federal government respond to requests for them to take over Kentucky’s water pollution program has been dismissed, but the plaintiffs plan to re-file the suit in the Court of Appeals.

Five years ago, environmental groups Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Sierra Club petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency, asking federal regulators to take over Kentucky’s water pollution program because of alleged routine mismanagement and lack of enforcement in the commonwealth. The EPA delegates Kentucky regulators the authority to run the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program in the state, but the environmental groups claimed state regulators weren’t enforcing the Clean Water Act. The EPA never responded to the petition, so in January, the groups sued the agency.

From the original petition:

“We recognize we are asking EPA to take drastic action. Given the nearly complete breakdown of Kentucky’s implementation and enforcement of its NPDES program, however, withdrawal of the State’s NPDES program is the only remedy that will bring Kentucky into compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA). In particular, the State’s capitulation to the coal industry and its complete failure to prevent widespread contamination of state waters by pollution from coal mining operations leaves EPA no choice but to withdraw its approval of that program.”

The EPA sought for the suit to be dismissed, saying that there was no requirement for the agency to reply to the petition. The environmental groups agreed in court to the dismissal, and plan to re-file the lawsuit as an Administrative Procedure Act claim in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Louisville’s Morris Forman treatment plant is still not fully functional after an electrical fire and power outage Wednesday night.

More than 100-million gallons of diluted sewage went into the Ohio River yesterday, and more continues to flow today. Some of that sewage was partially-treated, after Morris Forman began resuming some operations.

Some of it wasn’t treated at all, as the outage at the plant and rain caused the city’s combined sewer system to overflow into the river.

As of Friday morning, the sewage was still being discharged into the river, including at the Morris Forman site in Louisville’s Rubbertown neighborhood and at overflow sites around the city.

Metropolitan Sewer District officials are investigating the cause of the fire, but they say preliminary evidence suggests a lightning strike could be responsible.

It will be several days before the treatment plant is fully operational, but MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said the sewer overflows should stop sometime today, if there’s no more rain.

People are advised to avoid contact with the Ohio River and its tributaries.

A reduced crew of firefighters remains on site at the fire that broke out Friday at General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville.

Okolona Battalion Chief William Schmidt said the fire isn’t still burning, but there are spots smoldering and smoking. About 200 firefighters battled the blaze Friday at Appliance Park; now, Schmidt said that force has been reduced to about 30.

“We still have people out there. I couldn’t tell you when we’re not going to have people out there,” he said.

Now, crews are working to pick through the building’s wreckage to reach what Schmidt called “hot spots.”

“We’re having to utilize wrecking crews and contract crews to be able to dismantle the steel, to be able to safely reach those areas,” he said. “And that’s just time consuming.”

The shelter-in-place that was in effect for those living near Appliance Park was lifted Sunday night. Though technically General Electric could resume operations in its other buildings at the plant, the company has told employees the facility will be closed this week. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

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.

Pages