Clean-up is continuing nearly two weeks after a tanker truck spilled thousands of gallons of fuel in Pulaski County, Kentucky.
The fuel has also gotten into a local cave system.
An 8,000 gallon fuel spill would cause problems no matter the location. But the accident on January 30 was in the midst of the Sloans Valley cave system near Somerset, and early tests showed that at least some of the fuel entered the cave.
Kevin Strohmeier is an emergency response coordinator with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. He says since Friday, air tests for volatile organic compounds at cave entrances have been negative. This could mean that all of the fuel that got into the cave has volatilized and evaporated, but Strohmeier says there are still environmental concerns at the spill site.
"I think probably just making sure that we try to maintain control of the source and if we can remove it, we do that," he said. "If we can’t remove it, we monitor it and recover as much of it as possible.
Strohmeier says he doesn’t yet know if there was any permanent damage done to the cave system by the spill.
Caves are very sensitive environments, and wildlife officials have also been monitoring the local bat population.
A bill aimed at preventing a proposal by the United Nations to regulate environmental issues has cleared a Kentucky Senate committee.
Senate Bill 31, filed by Northern Kentucky Sen. John Schikel, seeks to prevent the state from adopting any environmental provisions set forth by a U.N. emissions-reduction plan known as “Agenda 21.”
The plan is renowned in conspiracy circles as a scheme by the world governing body to usurp private property, but Schickel says his bill is far from conspiracy theory.
“I don’t look at it as a threat, but, we believe, and I believe, and many of my constituents believe that United States officials, Kentucky officials and local officials should be making our environmental laws and making those decisions and not international organizations," Schikel said.
In western Kentucky, Henderson is taking steps to ensure the safety of drinking water as some pollutants move down the Ohio River.
Last week’s chemical spill in the Elk River in West Virginia has water utilities downstream taking precautions. The plume is expected to reach Henderson Monday morning.
Henderson Water Utility is collecting data from monitoring stations along the Ohio River and staying in contact with upstream water utilities, including Evansville and Louisville. Treatment Manager Kevin Roberts says no decision has been made on whether to close intake valves.
"We are going to take the greatest step we can to ensure the community is protected and that we supply water," adds Roberts. "If that includes shutting the intake then we certainly will do that."
A decision may not come until Sunday night, but the utility is working to build up the drinking water inventory just in case the intake valves are closed.
Contaminant levels in the Ohio River are currently below the threshold for any risk to the public.
Kentucky’s third annual sandhill crane hunting season wrapped up Sunday, and Fish and Wildlife officials are calling it a success.
The most recent numbers show 87 birds were killed in this year’s sandhill crane hunting season, mostly in Barren County. That’s slightly lower than last year, when 92 birds were killed. But both years, the actual hunt fell far below the quota of 400 birds the Department of Fish and Wildlife set.
Wildlife Biologist John Brunjes says nearly 400 people got permits to hunt sandhill cranes this year, but many weren’t successful.
"They’re an extremely difficult bird to hunt, they’re extremely wary," Brujes said. "It’s a challenge. The biggest limiting factor is there are only a few places where they occur in the state."
When Kentucky first began allowing sandhill crane hunting in 2011, it was controversial. Opponents argued the birds aren’t overpopulated or damaging the environment, and should be protected.
This year, Brunjes says there were about 68,000 birds in the sandhill crane’s eastern population. If that number ever fell below 30,000, that would trigger an automatic halt to the hunting season.
A statewide religious organization is urging Kentucky government to slow down and gather more information on the potential impacts of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline.
Kentucky Council of Churches Director Marian McClure Taylor says her group wants a more cautious approach taken on the Bluegrass Pipeline, which would connect natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia with export centers on the Gulf Coast.
“We don’t want accidents to happen, if they can be prevented,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to be in a situation later where we say you mean you didn’t have your best engineers take a look at the idea of how you were going to re-purpose those pipelines or how they’re going to be constructed or where the pressure stations are going to be.”
One proposed path of the pipeline would extend through northern Kentucky southward into Nelson, Larue, Hardin, Meade and Breckenridge counties.
Opponents of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline Thursday filed a lawsuit hoping to clarify whether eminent domain could be used for the project.
The Bluegrass Pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from drilling operations in the Northeast to processing plants on the Gulf of Mexico. For the past few months, pipeline company representatives have been approaching landowners, trying to purchase easements for the project. But while the company says it believes it has the power to condemn property if necessary, Kentucky legal experts have disagreed.
Penny Greathouse is a board member of Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain, the group that filed the lawsuit. She says the uncertainty is a problem for landowners considering whether to sign contracts with the pipeline company.
“I feel like there’s a lot of easements that have been signed because the person themselves have felt like they would rather be on the top end as opposed to on the lower end and they feel like they don’t know if [Williams] can take their property or not, so they’re just going to go ahead and sign, just to be done with it.”
By filing the lawsuit, the pipeline’s opponents are hoping to find out the court’s interpretation of the law before a landowner ends up in court over the matter. They’re hoping for a decision in January.
Kentucky’s coal production and employment both dropped during the third quarter of this year. The state’s eastern coalfields recorded the biggest loss.
From the second to third quarter of this year, Kentucky saw coal production drop 5 percent and shed 439 jobs. But the losses weren’t consistent across both ends of the state. Both production and jobs stayed nearly the same in Western Kentucky, while Eastern Kentucky recorded declines.
This report is the latest in a series that shows a negative trend in the state’s eastern coalfields. Coal mines have been shutting down or furloughing workers in record numbers…most recently, James River Coal announced it would close all of its mines in Eastern Kentucky, laying off 525 miners.
The weak demand for that region’s coal will likely continue. As Appalachian coal reserves get harder to reach, they’re more expensive to mine and new environmental regulations and inexpensive natural gas prices have prompted many utilities to switch away from burning coal.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has decided not to close a coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky. The nation’s largest utility was facing congressional pressure to keep open the Paradise Fossil Plant.
In a vote Thusday, the TVA's Board of Directors decided that one of the three units at the plant in Drakesboro will continue burning coal, while the other units will be converted to natural gas.
“It’s unnecessary and tragic that the Obama administration’s actions have forced utilities to discontinue coal operations at any of these units,” U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. “I fought hard to prevent these changes and fortunately one of the units will continue to burn coal, saving hundreds of jobs."
In his statement, McConnell also vowed to continue fighting what he called the Obama administration’s anti-coal agenda that threatens the livelihood of Kentuckians.
In a meeting last month with McConnell, TVA President Bill Johnson said several factors, including the current regulatory environment, forced the utility to review the future of the Paradise Fossil Plant. McConnell responded that Muhlenberg County couldn’t take anymore hits, given the upcoming retirement of Kentucky Utilities’ Green River plant in 2016.
The nation's largest public utility has voted to close six coal-powered units in Alabama and replace two more in Kentucky with a new natural gas plant.
At a Thursday meeting, Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said increasingly stringent environmental regulations and flat power demand have made it necessary to rethink how the utility generates power.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell met with Johnson last month to seek continued operation of the coal-burning Paradise Fossil Plant in Drakesboro, Ky. One coal-fired unit will remain there.
The board also voted to close all five units at the Colbert plant in northwest Alabama and one of two remaining units at the Widow's Creek plant in northeast Alabama.
Board members from Alabama and Kentucky said the closures were difficult but necessary.
Kentucky’s regulators are making the case to the federal government that the commonwealth should be allowed flexibility in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose rules regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants next June. In a white paper sent to the EPA last month, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet argues the agency should require states to reduce emissions by a certain percentage, rather than set across-the-board limits for power plants.
Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy John Lyons says Kentucky can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. But 97 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal, and the commonwealth should be allowed flexibility and time to make reductions.
“If you were to prescribe a rate-based approach for existing facilities that coal couldn’t meet, you would have no choice but to shut down the coal plants," Lyons said. "That simply is not reasonable nor feasible when we look at the 200,000 manufacturing jobs that we have in this state. There needs to be time for transition.”
Lyons estimates Kentucky is already on track to see significant CO2 reductions in the next several years, because several of the state’s coal-fired power plants plan to close.