environment

Erica Peterson

A push for Congress to extend tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration has a diverse group of advocates, including some who make unlikely bedfellows.

Organizations ranging from think tanks to coal companies to environmental groups sent a letter this week to U.S. Senate Committee on Finance chairman Orrin Hatch and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, asking the senators to extend a tax credit for companies that capture and sequester the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel plants.

The groups are asking Hatch and Wyden to extend the tax credit in a bill that funds the Federal Aviation Administration. There’s already a tax credit for carbon capture, but it includes a cap of 75 million tons of carbon. The extension would eliminate the cap.

It’s not surprising that coal and energy companies support tax breaks for advanced coal technology — coal’s share of the nation’s energy mix is falling, and many think perfecting the technology to sequester greenhouse gases is the best hope for the industry.

Creative Commons

A new workgroup will begin meeting next week to assess Kentucky’s handling of lead in its drinking water systems and develop recommendations for best practices.

To be clear, they’re not responding to an existing problem.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet formed the workgroup in response to the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan. After that city switched its drinking water source, thousands of children began showing signs of lead poisoning. The new water source was corrosive and wasn’t being treated with anti-corrosion chemicals. Because of the unbalanced chemistry, when the water ran through the pipes, heavy metals leached into it.

Lead is extremely dangerous for children; it builds up in bodies, and lead poisoning has been linked to numerous health problems, including developmental delays.

Tarence Ray/Appalachian Voices

State regulators have told an Eastern Kentucky coal mine to immediately cease operations after a pond overflow released iron-laced water into a stream last week and killed hundreds of fish.

The spill at the mine — operated by Hardshell Tipples in Letcher County — sent reddish, acidic water into nearly a mile-and-a-half of Pine Creek, as well as a tributary. More than 700 fish were found dead in the vicinity, and Department for Natural Resources inspectors linked the fish kill with the iron-saturated and acidic water released from the pond in violations they issued to the company.

In addition to the Imminent Danger Cessation Order, the DNR issued three violations to the company earlier this week. Another violation from the Department for Environmental Protection is pending, and cabinet spokesman John Mura said regulators issued an additional Hydrologic Resources (HR) violation today.

“The HR violation directs the company to immediately stop the discharge, obtain a stream restoration plan from the Division of Water, and obtain a fish restocking plan from the Division of Fish and Wildlife or a letter from the Division of Fish and Wildlife stating natural restocking of the stream is sufficient,” Mura said in an email.

Flickr/Creative Commons/John Karwoski

A bill under consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly that would end state coal mine safety inspections isn’t being pursued for financial reasons, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Senate Bill 297 would change Kentucky law to eliminate the provision that requires state coal mine inspections, in addition to federal inspections. Although the bill’s sponsor — Sen. Chris Girdler — didn’t return requests for comment, WFPL reported Monday that Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said one of the motivations for the bill was financial in the face of stiff state budget cuts.

But on Tuesday, Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura said the bill is, in fact, cost-neutral for the state. It would take current mine inspectors — there are 62 of them — and turn them into “mine safety analysts.”

Erica Peterson

A bill under consideration in Kentucky’s General Assembly would eliminate state mine inspections, a move that a safety advocate said would have adverse effects on mine safety in Kentucky.

Senate Bill 297 was introduced last week by Sen. Chris Girdler, a Republican from Somerset. It would repeal parts of Kentucky law that require state mine inspectors to examine underground coal mines at least six times a year, and other coal mines at least every six months.

The bill’s text reads:

“Whereas the coal industry has been regulated by both the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Division of Mine Safety during a time of economic downturn in the coal industry, which places an undue burden on the regulated community, an emergency is declared to exist, and this Act takes effect upon its passage and approval by the Governor or upon its otherwise becoming law.”

Both state and federal regulatory agencies inspect Kentucky coal mines, but mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard said the inspections complement, rather than duplicate, each other. And he added that while the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration attaches a monetary penalty for every citation it issues, it’s rare for state inspectors to levy civil fines.

LRC Public Information

The secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet has provided hints — but few specifics — of how state budget cuts will affect his agency.

Along with most sectors of state government, the cabinet’s spending would be reduced by 9 percent over the next two fiscal years and 4.5 percent this year under Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget.

Bevin has left the specifics of administering the cuts up to his cabinet secretaries.

But Secretary Charles Snavely, a former coal executive, wouldn’t say which programs in his cabinet will be cut.

“We’re undertaking a review of everything we do and determining if what we do is productive, if it’s cost effective, if there’s a better way to do it,” Snavely said.

Jake Ryan, WFPL News

Under changes that go into effect next month, Kentucky and every other state will have to assess the risks posed by climate change in its hazard mitigation plan.

Every state is required to submit such a plan to the Federal Emergency Management Agency every five years. And now, for the first time, FEMA has changed its guidelines to require that states don’t just examine and plan for the risks they have faced in the past, but analyze how climate change could affect the severity and frequency of events like flooding, droughts and heat waves.

The agency says preparing for these risks is necessary, as these weather events become more common. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month that 2015 was the hottest year on record globally, and extreme heat is affecting more Americans every year. The agency also says flooding is posing an increased risk to human health and the nation’s economy.

Erica Peterson

Nearly all of Kentucky’s federal representatives have formally filed a document in support of a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide regulations.

The EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan last summer. It sets carbon reduction goals for each state, and is part of President Obama’s overall goal of addressing climate change. Almost immediately, a coalition of states — including Kentucky — and industry groups sued to overturn the rule.

The lawsuit is set to be heard in June by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court issued a stay, blocking the regulations from going into effect until all legal challenges are settled.

The amicus brief filed today by more than 200 U.S. senators and representatives supports the challenges against the EPA’s rule. All of Kentucky’s Republican senators and congressmen — which is all of the state’s federal delegation except for Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville — signed on to the brief.

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Kentucky environmental officials are recommending more restrictions on fish consumption.

The Courier-Journal reports the recommendations come after state officials found mercury in more fish from more waterways across the state.

Officials now say everyone should limit how much locally caught fish they eat, not just pregnant women and children under six.

Lanny Brannock, spokesman for the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, says officials took samples from lakes across the state in 2009 and 2013, giving them a  better understanding of mercury levels statewide.

The new warning says the general population should limit bottom feeders such as catfish to one meal per week and limit top predators such as smallmouth bass to one meal per month.

Pregnant women and young children should eat even less.

Wikimedia Commons

The future of Kentucky’s controversial changes to a water quality standard is up in the air, after a settlement last year sent the changes back for federal review.

Selenium is a naturally occurring substance that’s released into waterways during strip mining. In large amounts, it’s toxic to both aquatic life and humans. The substance also bioaccumulates up the food chain, so as fish eat other fish, levels of selenium rise.

In November 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency approved changes to Kentucky’s water quality standard that changed the way selenium was measured. The state had requested permission to do away with the chronic — or long-term — standard, and instead institute a two-part process: If water testing reveals levels above a certain benchmark, it triggers fish tissue testing.

The EPA signed off on the changes, but environmental groups sued. In October, all the parties reached an agreement that sent Kentucky’s selenium standard back to the EPA for reconsideration. Part of that involves consulting the Endangered Species Act, which the agency was required to do and hadn’t completed the first time around.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, via Facebook

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is adding confirmed cougar sightings to a new online map. The Cougar Action Team, or CAT, is a new agency working to organize evidence submitted by the public and developing a policy for dealing with this subspecies of cougar, which is not native to Tennessee. 

The first confirmed sighting in more than 100 years was in Obion County last September

Tennessee Wildlife Biologist Joy Sweaney says cougars are secretive animals and aren't typically a threat to humans. If you do encounter one, she recommends acting like 'the hardest prey to kill' and they will leave you alone.

DNA samples from hair found in the Carroll County location identified the animal as a western cougar subspecies similar to those found in South Dakota. She says there is possibly more than one cougar in Tennessee, expanding out from their home range. Western cougars have a range of 150 square miles and while it's rare to spot one, they are more commonly found in the Midwestern states.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL News

In one of his first community meetings since taking office, Gov. Matt Bevin spoke Friday with residents in Hazard about the decline of the coal industry and the area’s economic depression.

Kentucky has lost more than 11,000 coal industry jobs since 2009, and the Eastern Kentucky coalfields have been the hardest hit. Numerous factors have contributed to the decline: competition from natural gas, environmental regulations and rising production costs. But for the past eight years, many Kentucky politicians have placed the blame solely on President Barack Obama and his environmental policies.

Bevin largely stayed away from using the “war on coal” rhetoric* during his community meeting in Hazard, though he did include several pointed mentions of EPA “overreach” and blamed Obama for the region’s woes.

“The EPA and this current presidential administration have absolutely gutted coal,” Bevin said. “Our current president said he was going to bankrupt the coal industry, and boy has he worked his hardest to make sure he’s done exactly that. I tell you, the fall of 2016 can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.”

Erica Peterson

The Kentucky Supreme Court denied a request on Wednesday by the Bluegrass Pipeline to consider an appeals court ruling that restricts eminent domain to regulated utilities in the state.

The Bluegrass Pipeline was originally proposed in 2013. It was a multi-state natural gas liquids pipeline that would have crossed 13 Kentucky counties, carrying NGLs from the Northeast to processing plants in the Gulf of Mexico. The project met a significant amount of grassroots opposition by residents concerned about safety issues and land and water contamination.

The pipeline company Williams officially put the project on hold in April 2014.

One of the factors that likely ultimately played into the Bluegrass Pipeline’s demise was the question of eminent domain. Kentucky law was murky on the subject. Williams representatives said they were confident the Bluegrass Pipeline would qualify, but some legal experts disagreed. Before the project was scuttled, a group of citizens calling themselves Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain filed a lawsuit, arguing that because it wasn’t a regulated utility, the Bluegrass Pipeline wouldn’t be eligible for eminent domain in Kentucky.

Erica Peterson

In the wake of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to temporarily halt the implementation of federal carbon dioxide regulations, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said it would also delay seeking public input on its compliance options.

The first deadline under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan was supposed to be in September. That was the month states were required to either submit a plan to comply with the rules or declare their intention to follow a federal blanket plan.

Last month, Kentucky Energy Secretary Charles Snavely announced the cabinet would seek a two-year extension. The EPA requires states requesting an extension to gather public input on their compliance options, and Snavely said the cabinet would do that via listening sessions around the commonwealth.

Now, the rule has been stayed until legal challenges are resolved, which will likely push the plan’s timeline back.

Erica Peterson

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to halt enforcement of federal carbon dioxide regulations until legal challenges to the rule are resolved.

The stay issued Tuesday evening is a blow to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets individual carbon dioxide reduction goals for each state.

Kentucky is one of 29 states and state agencies challenging the legality of the regulations. That lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but the Supreme Court decision will effectively block the implementation of the rule until the lower court acts.

The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the Clean Power Plan’s opponents. Kentucky, for one, had sought the stay in an attempt to get the litigation settled before the state invested time and money in developing a compliance plan for the rule.

Kentucky joined the lawsuit under then-Attorney General Jack Conway, and current Attorney General Andy Beshear is continuing the state’s involvement. In a statement, Beshear praised the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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