environment

Harmful Algal Blooms Not a Concern for Most of Western Kentucky, So Far

Sep 16, 2014
LBL Forest Service

The Kentucky Division of Water has identified potentially harmful algal blooms, or HABs, in 15 Kentucky lakes this summer, including Carpenters Lake in Daviess County. The lakes are still open, but the DOW advises the public to avoid exposure to HABs, which can cause skin irritation and stomach pain.

Environmental biologist for the DOW Mark Martin said more data is needed to determine whether or not HABs are happening more frequently, but the amount of nutrients like nitrates and phosphorous that are making their way into the watershed has increased over the last few decades, improving conditions for HABs.

Martin said Division of Water will analyze west Kentucky lakes next year. He says HABs prefer still water and may not be much of a concern in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley because the water flows through them quickly. He said it is more likely to find HABs in bays where backwater stagnates, allowing for the accumulation of algae.

The most severe form of black lung disease is at levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to new data from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

NIOSH has been testing underground coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia for the disease for 40 years.

In the data letter published today in a scientific journal, researchers say there has been a startling resurgence of complicated black lung.

This is despite federal laws that were supposed to control dust in coal mines and eradicate the disease. 

Evan Smith is an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg.

Emil Moffatt, WKU Public Radio

A researcher at Mammoth Cave National Park is fearful that a fungal disease is set to kill large numbers of bats in the region.

White Nose Syndrome was first discovered at the park in south-central Kentucky last year, and has impacted at least six of the eight bat species found inside the cave. Rick Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, says researchers at the park are expecting a spike in White Nose cases.

“Unfortunately we’re expecting potentially our next big milestone this year, when we may start seeing fairly large population drops, or possibly finding bats dying of white nose at the park.”

Watch: WKU Public Radio photojournalist Abbey Oldham recently produced a video exploring the potential impact of White Nose Syndrome on the bat populations at Mammoth Cave, and what the park is doing to combat the fungus:

Toomey says an estimated 6.5 million bats in North America have died due to White Nose Syndrome, although he believes the actual number could be much higher. Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee has recently seen a surge in bat deaths due to White Nose Syndrome—deaths Toomey says haven’t shown up yet in official estimates.

Erica Peterson, Kentucky Public Radio

Despite the fact that the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline has been suspended, the companies behind the project are appealing a circuit court decision that found they don’t have the right of eminent domain.

The pipeline would have carried natural gas liquids—like butane, ethane and propane—from drilling operations in the Northeast through Kentucky to processing plants on the Gulf Coast. The NGLs are used in manufacturing materials such as plastics and synthetic rubber, and some Kentucky residents expressed concerns about widespread water contamination if the pipe were to be built and leak.

In May, the companies behind the project announced they were suspending capital investment in the project due to a lack of customer commitments. This was after a number of setbacks, including a ruling from Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that the Bluegrass Pipeline wouldn’t have the power of eminent domain in Kentucky.

Representatives of Bluegrass Pipeline parent company Williams said at the time that the company would seek to use eminent domain only as a last resort, but they believed they had the power under Kentucky law.

Plans have been scrapped for a proposed natural gas power plant in western Kentucky. 

Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric announced plans last year to construct a $700 million facility in Muhlenberg County. 

The utilities announced this week the project was canceled because nine municipalities have chosen to terminate their contracts with the utility companies. 

State Representative Brent Yonts of Greenville is disappointed by the loss of construction jobs.

"It would have brought people into the county to live, to work, and maybe even settle here at some point in time," said Yonts. "It will have a substantial negative impact on the county because we will not be getting the benefit of that work."

A new natural gas plant would have made up for the loss of an old coal-fired power plant in Muhlenberg County that’s slated to close next spring. 

KU and LG&E still plan to build a solar-generating plant, but Yonts believes it would have less economic impact.

For the first time in a year, quarterly data shows an increase in coal production in Eastern Kentucky. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is rebounding. 

The coal industry made its presence known in Pittsburgh this week for public hearings on President Obama's controversial plan to address climate change. A key element is rules the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in June. They would cut greenhouse gas emissions — chiefly carbon dioxide — from existing power plants. The national goal is 30 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

A Canadian mining company will pay $3.2 million to settle allegations of Clean Water Act violations in Muhlenberg and Crittenden counties.

Elgin Mining of Vancouver, British Columbia, and the U.S. attorney's office in Louisville reached the agreement Thursday. Under the terms of the settlement, Elgin Mining will pay $3,071,292.00 to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources' Wetland and Stream Mitigation In-Lieu Fee Program, which provides mitigation credits for impacts to Kentucky's wetlands and streams associated with discharges of dredged or fill material.

Elgin Mining is also required to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 to the United States.

The government alleged that the company failed to mitigate the dumping of waste into streams and wetlands in Muhlenberg and Crittenden counties, resulting in the loss of the waterways.

McConnell Press Office

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding hearings this week across the country to collect public comments on its proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  Members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation gathered Wednesday to address what they call a “war on coal.”

The EPA’s proposed regulation would require Kentucky to cut 18 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions, though it leaves how those cuts are made up to the state.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attended what he called a “sham hearing” to voice his objections with the rule to EPA representatives, and then hosted a press conference with other congressional members from coal producing states.

"This isn’t about regulations written in some dungeon up in Washington. This is about thousands of people who have lost their jobs," exclaimed U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Bill Nye, The Go-To Guy On Climate Change

Jul 29, 2014

Bill Nye first learned to talk to audiences through his ’90s TV show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” where he made science topics fun and accessible to kids. But now, as CEO of The Planetary Society, he speaks to a different audience.

Nye has appeared on numerous news programs to talk about climate change. He’s a proponent of immediate action to reduce the damage that has been done to the atmosphere.

A policy group is asking the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize advertising claims by biomass plants that the energy produced is environmentally friendly and “green.”

Biomass energy is produced when wood products are burned in a power plant. There aren’t any large-scale biomass plants in Kentucky yet, but a company called ecoPower is building one in Eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky has long been known for coal. But a new project unveiled today has the potential to let the commonwealth also be known for coal technology.

A bevy of scientists and elected officials are in Harrodsburg this morning to cut the ribbon on a new carbon capture pilot project. The project was developed by scientists at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, and is being installed at Kentucky Utilities’ E.W. Brown power plant.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet is warning swimmers and boaters to stay away from several streams and tributaries in Eastern Kentucky.

The waterways are contaminated with E.coli bacteria, which comes from human and animal waste, and the problem is so extensive that the swimming advisories have been expanded to include all of Kentucky’s lakes and rivers after heavy rainfall.

Untreated sewage is released into streams and rivers from combined sewer systems—or CSOs—in cities like Louisville. It also runs off agricultural fields, leaks from aging septic tanks and is deposited directly into the river through straight pipes in some rural areas. Tim Joice of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance says data shows the number of stream miles affected by E.coli is growing, and it could take another 15 to 20 years to get the problem under control.

“We likely, especially in cities, will not see substantial improvement in CSO issues or insufficient wastewater treatment capacity issues for another number of years,” Joice said.

The state’s swimming advisories—which include the Upper Cumberland River, Kentucky River and Licking River—are in effect until further notice.

Tennessee Valley Authority

A lawsuit has been filed against the Tennessee Valley Authority over its plans to shut down two coal-fired units at its plant in Muhlenberg County.

The suit brought by a group of landowners and the Kentucky Coal Association argues the TVA didn’t perform a proper environmental impact statement before it decided to close the units at the Paradise Fossil Plant, and replace them with a natural gas unit scheduled to begin operations in 2017.

Meanwhile, ground continues to be cleared for the project. Speaking to reporters in June at the Paradise plant in Drakesboro, TVA transition manager Billy Sabin said the excavation stage should be completed within three months.

“That’s expected to complete sometime around the September timeframe. When that is complete, we’ll be working on getting our permits in place, and starting actual construction the end of this year to the first of next year.”

A TVA spokesman says officials are reviewing the lawsuit and will respond appropriately. The federally-owned corporation says reducing the number of coal-burning units at its Muhlenberg County plant from three to one will cut its coal reliance at the facility by half.

Skip Stiles stands on the edge of a small inlet known as the Hague, near downtown Norfolk, Va. The Chrysler Museum of Art is nearby, as are dozens of stately homes, all threatened by the water.

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