environment

Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that he will sign a new rule overriding the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"The war on coal is over," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared in the coal mining state of Kentucky. He said no federal agency "should ever use its authority" to "declare war on any sector of our economy."

Paringa Resources website

A new coal mine in McLean County is another step closer to reality after approval was given for two parts of the project on Sept. 25.

A member of the McLean County Board of Adjustment, Nancy Wetzel, said the board approved a conditional use permit for coal washing operations and the refuse pile for the Poplar Grove Mine.

The Australian company Paringa Resources and its Evansville, Indiana affiliate Hartshorne Mining Group have begun construction of the mine. The project is on 270 acres in the rural community of Semiway between Calhoun and Sacramento.

Photos by Kara Lofton, illustration by Jesse Wright, WVPB

Harvey. Irma. Maria. The hurricane season’s super-charged storms have highlighted the importance of disaster planning, and the aftermath offers a fresh lesson in just how long and difficult recovery can be.

Communities in the Ohio Valley, some still recovering from flash floods themselves, are looking at ways to prepare for what emergency management professionals warn is an era of more frequent extreme weather. 

It’s time, experts say, to get ready for the new normal.


Erica Peterson

It may be nicknamed “The Sunny Side,” but solar installations in Indiana’s Clark and Floyd counties are still few and far between. A group of volunteers is trying to change that, and their push has intensified over the past few months.

At Jeffersonville’s First Presbyterian Church, Tricia Tull points to solar panels on the building’s roof. The church installed 13 kilowatts of solar two years ago, paying about $3 a watt. This year, they added 15 more kilowatts.

Hurricane Irma is hovering somewhere between being the most- and second-most powerful hurricane recorded in the Atlantic. It follows Harvey, which dumped trillions of gallons of water on South Texas. And now, Hurricane Jose is falling into step behind Irma, and gathering strength.

Is this what climate change scientists predicted?

In a word, yes. Climate scientists such as Michael Mann at Penn State says, "The science is now fairly clear that climate change will make stronger storms stronger." Or wetter.

The U.S. power grid could become less reliable if too much electricity comes from renewable energy and natural gas, according to a study from the Department of Energy.

But not everyone is buying it. Environmentalists suspect the Trump administration is just trying to prop up an ailing coal industry.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for the study in the spring. The report doesn't say there is a grid reliability problem now — only that one could develop if more coal and nuclear power plants shut down.

Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

"This is the liquid nitrogen tank," Deppe explains. "It's a million-and-a-half gallon tank."

Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.

Gabe Bullard

The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior has asked the National Academy of Sciences to suspend research into the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining.

A team from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was established last year for a two-year study. The committee has been conducting hearings and investigating accumulating science on the health impacts of surface mining, especially the practice known as mountaintop removal.

A statement from the National Academies said that the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter calling off the study until an agency-wide review of existing grants and projects can be conducted.

Creative Commons

The federal government is directing nearly $4 million to two Eastern Kentucky projects in an effort to create jobs and opportunities.

The state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet announced the grants earlier this week. The money from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot program will fund projects in Prestonsburg in Floyd County and Royalton in Magoffin County.

Erica Peterson

New numbers from the first two quarters of this year show both coal production and employment are continuing to decline in Kentucky, despite President Donald Trump’s promises that miners would be going back to work.

Overall, Kentucky saw a nearly 10 percent decline in coal production between the first and second quarters of 2017. The industry shed 200 jobs during the same time period.

“Obviously, an almost a 10 percent decrease since last quarter is not what we’d like to see,” said Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White. “But I’ve always said that you don’t turn this industry around in a one or two quarter measurement.”

Glynis Board

Thanks to singer-songwriter John Prine, Paradise Fossil Plant might be the only coal-fired power plant that has a household name. “Paradise,” Prine’s 1971 ballad, drew on boyhood memories from the small town of Paradise, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, to relay the environmental and social costs of our dependence on coal.

“Mr. Peabody’s coal train,” he sang, had hauled away the Paradise from his childhood.

Becca Schimmel

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s combined cycle gas plant in Muhlenberg County has produced more than one million megawatts of energy in its first three months of operation. It’s part of the federal utility’s effort to diversity its energy portfolio.

The natural gas facility in Drakesboro produces about 1,025 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for half a million homes. The cost of the project is estimated at about $850 million. Bob Deacy is a TVA senior vice president and has been building plants for more than 30 years. He said there’s a lot of fuel switching going on across the country, and having a diverse energy portfolio will save consumers money.

Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection

Pointing to years of documented pollution from a Central Kentucky coal-fired power plant, environmental groups are suing Kentucky Utilities. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Lexington.

The issue is ongoing coal ash pollution at the E.W. Brown plant, which is near Danville. The power plant also sits directly next to Herrington Lake, which is a popular recreation spot. But for the past six years, regulators have documented contaminated water flowing into the lake. Fish tissue sampling done last year revealed the fish in Herrington Lake have been poisoned with selenium, which is one of the elements present in coal ash.

Jeff Young

Political leaders in West Virginia and Kentucky are joining a coalition of states threatening to sue California over a program the state is pushing that would drop investments in coal.

This week the attorney general of West Virginia joined 11 other Republican attorneys general and the governor of Kentucky in signing a letter to the commissioner of the California Department of Insurance. The department wants any insurance companies licensed in California to divest from fossil fuels – especially coal. Many of the companies licensed in California are also licensed in many other states throughout the U.S.

Wikimedia Commons

Predicting the imminent arrival of an insect species that could devastate Kentucky’s sweet sorghum crops, the state Department of Agriculture has declared an emergency and is letting the commonwealth’s farmers apply a new pesticide to protect their plants. But the pesticide in question — Sivanto Prime — has come under fire from environmental groups who say it hasn’t been properly vetted and could pose a risk to bees and other animals.

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