Environment

NOAA/NASA

"No one can remember a wildfire as peculiar as the monster gnawing through the gorge above the village of Chimney Rock," began an article Monday in the Charlotte Observer.

The blaze in question is one of dozens of partially contained wildfires, some of them suspected cases of arson, burning across the Southeast. In Alabama alone, there are currently 20 fires burning, and more than 1,500 blazes have burned there since October 1, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission.

People are being evacuated in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, including in and around Chimney Rock, N.C., where the erratic fire described in the Observer has enveloped some 3,000 acres since Saturday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

As of Monday afternoon, that blaze was only 15 percent contained.

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.

NOAA, wikipedia.org

The National Weather Service in Paducah is warning the western Kentucky region that increased severe weather conditions often follow autumn temperatures. NWS meteorologist Rick Shanklin says tornado watches should be treated as warnings during the fall season because of the increased risk.

“The key thing is to have a location  you can go to that is shelter, especially if you live in a mobile home, because we know most of the fatalities in our region in tornadoes have occurred in mobile homes.” Shanklin said.  

Second guessing could prove fatal during evening warnings and “big picture” thinking is absolutely necessary, according to Shanklin.

“A lady in northern Christian County, a tornado watch was issued, she made the decision to leave her mobile home and go to a nearby relative's house, they spent the night there and sure enough the tornado came through and it did major damage at her home site and all around and that was a very wise decision on her part," Shanklin said.

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.

US Army Corps of Engineers

A 25-mile section of the Ohio River from Smithland, Kentucky, to Brookport, Illinois, will be closed to shipping traffic later this week for up to four days of emergency repairs. It’s all due to something called a “wicket.”

“It looks like teeth in the river,”  explained Army Corps of Engineers Public Information Officer Todd Hornback. The wickets, which are about four feet wide and 20 feet long, are crucial to controlling the water levels for river traffic.

“You have several wickets that are crossing the Ohio River, and when those are pulled up that helps hold back water and helps maintain a pool for the lock and dam,” Hornback said. “And then when they’re lowered water can go through and then also navigation can go through.”

Hornback said three wickets broke free from their bases at Dam 52, near Paducah in western Kentucky. The closed section of river carries approximately ninety million tons of waterborne goods annually.

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.”

Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

Coal-producing states are preparing for arguments next month in the federal appeals court case known as West Virginia v. EPA, challenging the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The case has major implications for the country’s policy on climate change. But some experts and industry leaders say the outcome is not likely to bring coal back from its decline in the power market.

Diversifying Power 

Coal from central Appalachia has been “keeping the lights on” in the U.S. for nearly a century, so perhaps it’s no surprise that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading dozens of other states — including Kentucky and Ohio — and many industry groups in opposition to the new carbon emission standards.

At a May event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Morrisey said the Clean Power Plan is a disincentive for coal production.

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.

WKU

The rainfall that’s been pounding Kentucky this summer has broken records and impacted farmers.

Kentucky state climatologist and WKU Geography and Geology professor Stuart Foster is reporting that rainfall records in several counties were shattered in July. The climate observer station in Murray recorded more than 18 inches of rain.

That broke the previous record by more than 7 inches.

Mesonet sites with the most rainfall in July also included Christian County with more than 18 inches, and Logan County with nearly 17 inches. Butler, Hopkins, and Marshall counties all recorded 16 inches of rainfall last month.

The heavy rains washed out portions of tobacco in some fields.

But the above average rainfall was an advantage for some crops, including corn and soybeans.

Kentucky Mesonet has 66 weather stations collecting data in 65 counties.

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.

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