Environment

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.

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.

Kentucky Mesonet

If you’ve been outside lately, you know it’s hot.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for most of our area through the weekend.

High temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 90s. Those temperatures are not the only thing to be concerned about, says Patrick Collins, a meteorologist for the statewide weather monitoring system called Kentucky Mesonet.

“Be careful of the temperature, as well as the heat index, which is the temperature added to the amount of humidity in the air."

Over the next few days, that combination will produce a heat index that feels more like 105-to-110 degrees. A heat index of 105 or higher is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people who work outside. 

It’s been an intense summer in Kentucky weather-wise.  Before the heat wave, Kentucky had heavy rains that broke records in at least one location in the state.

Megan Schargorodski is operations manager for  Kentucky Mesonet, which has  66 weather stations.

“Earlier in July we had an event in western Kentucky, in Marshall County, that experienced about 8 inches of rain in 5 hours. According to climatological charts, that's about a 1,000- year event.”

That means the area is only expected to get that much rain in that amount of time only about every 1,000 years. 

Creative Commons

Parts of Kentucky are under a heat advisory.  
 
WAVE 3 meteorologist Kevin Harned says while heat advisories aren't uncommon, there aren't many year to year.  
 
Harned says heat advisories make it easier to overheat, as perspiration rises off the skin faster than usual.  
 
Taking breaks if you work outside, drinking plenty of water and limiting your exposure to the sun are all strongly advised for the next few days.  
 
Harned warns the father west you go, the hotter the temperatures will be. Along and east of I-65 may feature some storms to cool things down.  
 
The heat advisory will be in effect until around 7:00 Central Saturday evening. 

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.

Erica Peterson

Even in what has historically been the country’s coal-fired stronghold, coal’s share of the electricity market is declining. The drop of coal-fired electricity generation in the Southeast — and a corresponding rise in natural gas and renewables — is reflecting what’s happening to the nation as a whole.

The Southern States Energy Board released its regional energy profile last week. The SSEB is an interstate compact made up of elected officials from 16 Southern states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Kentucky is part of the compact, as are neighboring states like Missouri, West Virginia and Tennessee.

“The states that have been predominantly coal in the past are seeing some of the same pressures [as the rest of the country],” said SSEB Senior Technical Analyst Gary Garrett.

Erica Peterson

The fiscal court in Boyle County, Kentucky and the Danville City Commission have formally approved resolutions opposing a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline that would cross the county.

Both bodies are also asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an environmental impact study before granting approval for the conversion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline is already in the ground, carrying natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico through Kentucky. But the proposal by company Kinder Morgan would reverse the pipeline’s flow and convert it to instead carry natural gas liquids.

NGLs are the byproducts of natural gas drilling: hydrocarbons such as ethane, butane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics, synthetic rubber and antifreeze, but they also include health hazards and the risks of water or soil contamination if a leak occurs.

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