Environment

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.

Erica Peterson, Kentucky Public Radio

Federal officials have begun reviewing a proposal to "repurpose" a natural gas pipeline that runs through 18 counties in Kentucky and is taking public comment about it.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is preparing an environmental assessment and will take comments through May 18 on a proposal by Kinder Morgan to convert its Tennessee Gas Pipeline to carry natural gas liquids instead of natural gas.

Some officials and residents in central Kentucky have raised concerns about the ramifications if there's a leak or an explosion, especially near rivers and lakes that supply communities with drinking water.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley has said the company plans upgrades and would thoroughly test the line before returning it to service.

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.

Rick Toomey, National Park Service

Cave surveys over the winter have found a steep decline in the three most common species of bats in Tennessee.

Surveyors found fewer little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and tricolored bats due to the fungal disease white-nose syndrome.

Tennessee Cave Program for the Nature Conservancy Director Cory Holliday said caves that used to shelter thousands of hibernating little brown bats now appear to have none.

Biologists say the impacts of the disease appear to be similar to those already seen in northeastern states, where entire bat populations have been wiped out.

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.

This post has been updated.

More than 100 million gallons of sewage have been diverted straight into the Ohio River, following an electrical fire and power outage Wednesday night at the Morris Forman treatment plant, in what an official said is one of the largest overflows the city has had in the past decade.

The mishap occurred Wednesday night when a fire at Morris Forman in Louisville’s Rubbertown neighborhood caused an eight-hour power outage. Power was restored by Thursday morning, but sewage continues to seep into the waterway.

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.

www.facebook.com/RepEdWhitfield

House Republicans are targeting a key element of President Barack Obama's strategy for fighting climate change, this time with a bill to delay the Obama administration's plan to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky unveiled a draft bill Monday that would allow governors to veto compliance with the federal rule if the governor determines it would cause significant hikes for electricity or harm reliability in the state.

The bill also would delay the Environmental Protection Agency's climate rule until all court challenges are completed.

The measure does not block the EPA rule outright, as previous GOP bills have intended, but Whitfield said he is confident the measure would protect states and consumers. Whitfield chairs the House Energy panel's energy and power subcommittee.

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