environment

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.

Erica Peterson

The proposed conversion of a natural gas pipeline across Kentucky is moving forward.

Friday is the final day to comment on a draft environmental assessment that found the project would have no significant environmental impacts. But environmental groups and residents affected by the pipeline say the project deserves a more thorough analysis.

In 2013, energy company Kinder Morgan announced it planned to stop carrying natural gas through the 1,400-mile Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Instead, it would convert the pipeline to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) and reverse its flow.

NGLs are the byproduct of drilling for natural gas and contain hydrocarbons like butane, ethane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics and other materials.

Public News Service

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staffers say a proposed natural gas pipeline that runs through Kentucky would not have a significant environmental impact — but people concerned about potential environmental problems continue to oppose the project.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the staffers made the recommendation in a report issued this week. If the commission agrees, it could allow the project to go forward without a more detailed, time-consuming environmental impact study.

The Tennessee Natural Gas Pipeline passes through 18 Kentucky counties — and crosses over Herrington Lake, a source of drinking water for Danville. Parent company Kinder Morgan wants to convert it from carrying natural gas to natural gas liquids.

Pipeline opponents have expressed concerns that include the potential for explosions and breaks that would contaminate water and soil.

Dave Mistich, WVPB

For more than half a century along the Ohio River, the chemical company DuPont provided jobs for thousands of people. One chemical they produced is PFOA, commonly known as C8. It was a remarkably useful compound, used in “Teflon” non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and even in some food wrappers.

Over time, researchers have found that C8 is also toxic. DuPont and other companies phased out U.S. production a few years ago. Now it’s made in China.

But because the chemical can persist in water, communities along the Ohio River — and around the U.S. — are still grappling with the environmental fallout of contamination from C8 and similar chemicals. The ReSource generated a map using water testing data available from the U.S. EPA. It shows 12 water systems in 10 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia where these chemicals were detected in the water.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory this year for C8 levels in drinking water, and many of the water systems that detected C8 and related chemicals found them at levels lower than the EPA advisory. However, a growing body of science indicates that the EPA advisory level is not sufficiently protective of human health, and many researchers recommend far more restrictive thresholds for exposure.

Art Smith, EPA

Thousands of tons of arsenic-contaminated material have been removed from a site in Ohio County.

The state dug up contaminated soil and replaced it with dirt and loose stones.

Kentucky inspectors believe that containers of arsenic were dumped in a wooded area of Ohio County between 50 and 60 years ago.

The arsenic leaked out of those containers, made its way into a culvert, and showed up on two residential properties.

John Mura, spokesman with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, says the state removed the contaminated soil.

“You have to dig up the ground that is contaminated. And we have very sophisticated measuring devices that we can tell when we’ve removed enough. In total in the site, we removed 4,833 tons of material.”

The state doesn’t know who is responsible for dumping the arsenic containers in Ohio County decades ago.

Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia were among the 27 states challenging the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, in oral arguments Tuesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.  

The CPP aims to reduce by about a third the power plant emissions of CO2, a greenhouse gas that scientists have identified as a major cause of climate change. The pollution reductions would come in phases over a little more than two decades.

In an unusual move that reflects the importance of the case, all of the court’s 10 judges heard a full day of arguments, rather than the usual panel of three. 

Supporters say the EPA plan would spur investment in clean energy technology. Opponents, including West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, say it will drive up the price of electricity and hurt an already ailing coal industry.

Jorfer, Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., hears arguments Tuesday, Sept. 27, in the case West Virginia v. EPA, challenging the federal Clean Power Plan. That’s the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s attempt to address climate change by limiting CO2 emissions from power plants.

The challengers include 27 state attorneys general. One in particular, West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, has positioned himself as the champion of fossil fuel interests fighting government regulation.

“This rule simply devastates coal, coal miners, coal retirees and their families and puts at risk thousands of good paying jobs and affordable energy for our state,” Morrisey wrote in a recent opinion piece.

West Virginia’s Attorney General is not from the Mountain State, he’s from the Empire State. After a failed Congressional bid in New Jersey the New York native set his sights on West Virginia.

Daviess County Emergency Management

The first solar-powered weather siren in Daviess County is taking the emergency warning system a step forward in green technology.  The siren is at Shively Park in Owensboro.

John Clouse is deputy director of emergency management for Daviess County.  He says all 40 sirens in the county are powered with battery back-up and this first solar one is a test project.   

“So charging that with solar energy versus an electrical charge from one of the companies just seemed to make sense. We have a lot of sunshine and the new solar technology is very good at being able to collect and generate energy even on cloudy days now.”

Clouse said the solar-powered siren is tested regularly and so far, so good.

“To this point it’s been working great. We have had no problems with it at all. We test the sirens usually about three times a week, most notably on Friday at noon when we have the audible test. The siren has been behaving as it should since it’s been installed.”

Wikimedia Commons

A study of drinking water systems found 6 million Americans, including people in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio, are living with drinking water containing chemicals linked to a host of health problems.

The Harvard Chan School of Public Health published research in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters that delves into thousands of drinking water samples from across the nation. Researchers looked for certain chemicals – called “perfluorinated” compounds – which are linked to cancer and other health problems. We’ve been using these chemicals for decades in food wrappers, clothing, carpets, and on nonstick pots and pans.

Researcher Laurel Schaider of the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, noted where concentrations were highest, and what possible sources of contamination exist.

LG&E/KU

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities are planning a new way to offer solar energy to residential customers.

The utilities are seeking permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to build a 4 megawatt community solar field in Shelby County. LG&E and KU ratepayers who want solar energy, but for whatever reason can’t install it on their own properties, can pay a fee for a share of the solar field and get a credit on their utility bills for the solar energy that share generates.

“We continue to see an increased interest from customers for renewable energy,” said LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt. “If this were to be approved, this type of program is ideal for customers who want to support local solar energy but are unable to install it on their own property or would prefer to avoid upfront or long-term costs. It’s especially appealing for renters or those customers who may have properties predominantly in shade or may have deed restrictions.”

Erica Peterson

A non-profit is recommending a Kentucky coal plant retire sooner than planned.

The Elmer Smith plant in Owensboro is old — it initially went into service in 1964. And over the past few years, it’s become a target for environmental groups, who point to the plant’s age and emissions, saying the upgrades it would take to comply with upcoming pollution regulations make it uneconomical to keep burning coal there.

At the request of the Sierra Club, the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied several documents from Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which owns and operates the Elmer Smith plant. IEEFA concluded that retiring the plant’s two units sooner rather than later would be the least-cost option for ratepayers, and urged the utility to consider replacing the capacity with renewable energy.

Among the problems IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schissel flagged in his analysis of Elmer Smith was that the area’s demand for electricity has remained relatively flat since 2004. So since then, the plant has been producing more power than it needs to supply its ratepayers. OMU sells the excess power on the wholesale market, but for only a fraction of its cost.

Wikimedia Commons

A coalition of environmental groups is formally protesting the upcoming auction of federal lands in Western Kentucky for possible oil and gas drilling.

The administrative protest was filed last week by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kentucky Conservation Committee, the Sierra Club and others.

At issue is the proposed auction of 184 acres in Union County. The land is part of the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area; in total, the WMA is more than 11,000 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and licensed to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management wants to auction off the land’s oil and gas leases in September, though they note that the leases won’t include any surface disturbance.

Kara Lofton, WVPB

People in West Virginia are still recovering from floods that tore through communities like vengeful gods. When you look at the pictures and videos of the June flood – thick, brown, furious, unrelenting – it’s not hard to imagine how our ancestors believed supernatural beings were behind the devastation.

Today, of course, we have better insight into the natural forces at work, and science shows us that the damage from nature’s wrath has a lot to do with human behavior.

The National Weather Service described the West Virginia disaster as a 1000-year event, a term meteorologists use to describe the rare probability of such extreme rains. Many scientists who study the climate, however, warn that our warming atmosphere is increasing the likelihood and severity of flooding disasters. Further, a review of emergency planning shows that while risk of extreme rainfall is on the rise in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, the states are not doing enough to prepare for the rising waters.

Bill Hughes

At a committee hearing on Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed how 400 tons of low-level radioactive waste ended up in a landfill in Estill County.

The waste is the result of backflow produced from the natural gas extraction method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking.”

Earlier this year, state officials acknowledged that the waste from fracking sites in West Virginia ended up in Irvine, Kentucky’s Blue Ridge Landfill, which is operated by Advanced Disposal.

The company has said it didn’t knowingly accept any illegal waste.

Estill County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor said that waste from the deep-drilling process needs to be better regulated.

“We cannot let some large corporation come in and think they can push over what some think as hillbillies,” Taylor said during a Natural Resources and Environment committee hearing on Tuesday.

Erica Peterson

There are lots of factual ways to describe coal: carbon-rich, abundant, fossil fuel. But Republicans would like to add one more to the list: clean.

In the national GOP’s draft platform — leaked earlier this week — the party lays out its position on a number of issues, including the role it believes coal should play in America’s energy production. The share of U.S. electricity produced by coal is at the lowest point in more than half a century; in 2015, it accounted for 33 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

Coal’s recent problems have been numerous: It’s getting harder to reach reserves in Appalachia, it’s facing competition from cheaper natural gas, and utilities are choosing to retire older coal-fired plants rather than update them to comply with new environmental regulations.

But the Republican draft platform doubles down on coal.

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