environment

For the first time in about a century, no union coal miners are working in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union miners were laid off New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down, the United Mine Workers of America confirmed.

“Appalachia was always a really tough nut for the union to crack, and I think maybe Kentucky was the toughest nut of all,” said labor historian James Green, author of a new book about West Virginia’s mine wars.

In retrospect, the fight to unionize Harlan County’s Brookside mine in 1973 was one of the last stands for the union in the commonwealth, Green said. The struggle was immortalized in the Oscar-winning documentary “Harlan County, USA.”

The decline of unions is a nationwide trend that applies to organized labor of all types. In 1983, 20 percent of American workers belonged to some sort of labor union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes. By 2014, that number had fallen to 11 percent.

But Green said the decline of the coal workers’ union is one of the starkest in the country.

“The steel and auto industries have managed to regroup and regain some hold,” he said. “Still, most General Motors workers are [members of the United Auto Workers union]. You can’t say that about most coal miners.”

Kentucky LRC

With support from an unlikely partnership of industry and environmental advocates, a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—for natural gas.

The fracking process extracts natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

The House proposal would impose several regulations on the fracking industry, including water quality testing near injection sites, disclosure of the chemicals that are injected underground and a requirement that companies protect or reclaim land around injection sites.

“It’s not only good for the oil and gas industry but it’s good for environmental protection purposes as well,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook who sponsored the bill.

Tom FitzGerald, director of environmental group the Kentucky Resources Council, said there are “arguments to be made” that fracking has more negative than positive impacts, But he nonetheless supported the bill, saying it would regulate fracking’s inevitable growth in the state.

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A new public-private partnership in Kentucky will help the state’s livestock producers control their animals’ excrement.

The project will direct more than $4 million toward planning resources and on-the-ground solutions designed to help keep excess nutrients out of the commonwealth’s waterways. This is an issue in Kentucky—and in many watersheds. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are used heavily in agriculture, but the runoff can cause problems in rivers and streams.

“In crop production, we utilize those nutrients to grow the crops we need,” said Amanda Gumbert of the University of Kentucky’s Agriculture Extension program.

“In livestock production, our animals are given nutrients through their feed, but then also we produce nutrients with manure. So, we have to balance that production of manure with the crops we want to grow without losing excessive nutrients into the environment.”

Updated at 5:04 p.m. ET

The Senate in a bipartisan 62-to-36 vote approved Thursday the Keystone XL pipeline project, setting up a faceoff with the White House, which has threatened a presidential veto.

Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans to pass the measure, which now must be reconciled with a version passed last month by the House. The Senate vote is also not enough to override a presidential veto.

It's official: 2014 was the hottest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center crunched the numbers and came to this conclusion:

Is Fracking Coming to the Cumberlands?

Jan 9, 2015

Speculation has begun in Eastern Kentucky about a potentially large reserve of oil and natural gas trapped about two miles underground. If the Rogersville Shale is proven productive, it would be the region’s first major oil and gas play. This has excited the industry, but some residents are worried about the toll large-scale oil and gas production would take on human health and the environment.

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Environmental groups are going to court to argue that Kentucky and West Virginia are doing a poor job of enforcing federal clean water rules.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Sierra Club, and others say the states haven’t done enough to control pollution from surface coal mines, causing damage to nearby streams and rivers.

The groups behind the federal lawsuits say they asked the Environmental Protection Agency years ago to rescind Kentucky and West Virginia’s authority over surface coal mine discharges. But the plaintiffs say the EPA never responded to that request.

The Herald-Leader reports the lawsuits are designed to compel the federal agency to act. The suits claim Kentucky doesn’t have enough employees to adequately monitor surface mine pollution, failed to set appropriate limits on pollutants, and issued mining permits under rules that included less scrutiny of applicants.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet says his group believes they have been implementing all programs in accordance with state and federal regulations.

Updated at 5:46 p.m.

The White House says President Obama will veto any congressional legislation that approves the Keystone XL pipeline.

"If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn't sign it," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

NPR and four other news organizations are challenging a sweeping gag order issued in the federal criminal case against former coal mining executive Don Blankenship.

Four-and-a-half years after they were first announced, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the nation’s first federal rules on the handling of coal ash this month.

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