Several residents near the Cane Run Power Station are angry after Louisville Gas & Electric employees walked onto their property without permission to collect dust samples off their homes.LG&E has been fined $50,000 over the past year for several instances in which coal ash has left the landfill at the power plant and contaminated nearby homes—the first notice of violation was settled for $19,500. The newest series of violations is still pending, and for several months the company has been taking dust samples off nearby homes to determine whether ash is leaving the facility—and if so, how much.LG&E visited 29 homes near the Cane Run station this week to sample. Spokeswoman Liz Pratt says residents were home in 20 of those houses. The company took samples from all the homes, even if homeowners weren’t home to give permission.“We mistakenly proceeded with the sampling at those homes in the residents’ absence,” she said.The situation infuriated Kathy Little, who lives across the street from the plant and has been documenting the coal ash situation for more than a year.“It’s bad enough that we have to breathe and put up with all this filth and now we have to allow them on our property without our permission?” she wrote in an email. “Wonder how far I’d get if I tried to walk into [the] LG&E Cane Run plant?”Little says she has repeatedly given permission for the Air Pollution Control District to take samples off her property, but doesn’t trust LG&E and the laboratory they use to produce accurate results.“This sampling is part of our continued commitment to the APCD to monitor for particulate emissions from our Cane Run facility,” Pratt said.But Air Pollution Control District officials were adamant that LG&E was not doing dust sampling at the agency’s bidding. “The APCD does its own sampling,” spokesman Tom Nord said. “We would not ask LG&E to take samples for us.”Pratt says LG&E will destroy the samples obtained without residents’ permission. She says in the future, the company will send out notices to residents and obtain verbal consent before entering private property.
Mammoth Cave National Park has named a new superintendent, and she is the first woman to serve in that capacity in the park’s history.Sarah Craighead will replace Patrick Reed, who retired at the end of June. She’s currently the superintendent at Death Valley National Park, which straddles parts of California and Nevada. She’s also worked at national parks in Arizona, Oklahoma and Maine, among others.But Craighead is originally from Horse Cave, Kentucky—right outside the Mammoth Cave National Park. She graduated from Caverna High School as the valedictorian in 1974. She worked at Mammoth Cave as a campground ranger and cave guide while she was in college at Transylvania University in Lexington.In a statement, Craighead credited Mammoth Cave for launching her career with the National Park Service, and says she looks forward to reconnecting with the area and park after three decades away. She begins her new job on November 4.
Kentucky's Division of Water has joined neighboring Indiana and Ohio in entering a water pollution credit trading program.Basically, this program would allow power plants and other industrial facilities to avoid some controls--and pollute a little more--if they pay farmers upstream to control their runoff.As Jim Bruggers of the Courier-Journal reports on his blog:But the concept can be controversial.It was a Republican idea, designed to give industry flexibility in meeting air pollution regulations. With air quality, pollution trading has been credited with helping to greatly reduce acid acid rain. Cap-and-trade was was roundly criticized by environmentalists when the Bush administration tried to apply it to mercury, saying it could lead to “hot spots” around plants where operators chose not to install pollution controls. And Republicans took to hating when it came to trying to curb emissions blamed for global warming.Floyds Fork Environmental Association leader Teena Halbig is blunt in her assessment. “This shifts pollution from one spot to another,” she said.Her group has long been concerned that the state might someday use the technique to give a pass to MSD treatment plants on Floyds Fork.Right now, this is a pilot program and is only being implemented in a small part of Northern Kentucky. But if it's successful, it could be implemented throughout the Ohio River Basin.
An official with an eastern Kentucky coal mining company has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he put miners at risk.Coal mine foremen are required to note hazardous conditions in inspection reports, and then correct them. Manalapan Mining Company shift foreman Bryant Massingale acknowledged that he didn’t do this in federal court on Thursday.Massingale worked at the company's P-1 mine in Harlan County. A grand jury charged the company and three officials with exposing miners to the risk of injury or death by violating safety rules in June 2011.Massingale is the only one who is pleading guilty: the company and two other officials have pleaded not guilty.A few weeks before the alleged acts listed in the indictment, 49-year-old David Partin of Pineville died when a section of the mine wall fell on him.
A three-judge panel has voted two to one to strike down a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that would require some states to reduce pollution that travels across state lines. This puts the EPA in a difficult position.The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would require twenty-eight states—including Kentucky and all of its neighbors—to cut back on ozone-forming emissions and in some cases, fine particle pollution. The EPA created the rule in response to a 2008 court decision that vacated its predecessor—a rule put into place by George W. Bush’s administration that the court deemed wasn’t stringent enough.So, with the court’s split decision to overturn the new, stricter rule, the EPA is caught in the middle. John Walke is the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean Air Program.“The problem is that in the middle of this fairy tale about Goldilocks and the Three Bears where EPA is being told, this is too hot and this is too cold, we don’t know yet what judges consider to be just right,” he said.With this new decision, Walke says the EPA is still lacking clear guidance on how the agency is supposed to protect the public from air pollution—which it’s required to do.Environmental groups argued that the new rule would save tens of thousands of lives a year. Utilities say the pollution controls needed to comply would have been costly.Louisville Gas and Electric has already gotten necessary approval to make upgrades to plants to comply with the law. A spokeswoman says the company is still assessing the decision, but the initial thoughts are the court ruling will have a minimal effect on plans.The EPA can appeal the decision, and send it back to court. If the agency has to start over with the rulemaking, it could take another four years before stricter regulations are in place. Until then, some provisions of the Bush-era rule will remain in place.How the votes played out:You can read the court’s decision here. There were three judges voting—two voted to strike down the rule, and one dissented.Voting against the rule were Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Judge Thomas Griffith. Both were appointed by President George W. Bush. The lone dissenter was Judge Judith Rogers, who was nominated by Bill Clinton in 1994.
An updated federal report shows that more than one-third of Indiana is still in at least extreme drought even though recent rainfall has improved conditions for much of the state. The new U.S. Drought Monitor report released today says about 11 percent of Indiana is in the worst category with exceptional drought. That designation covers much of the state's southwestern corner from around Terre Haute to north of Evansville. The federal report classifies 37 percent of Indiana as in extreme or exceptional drought, with all that area in the state's southern half. Two weeks ago, nearly 69 percent of the state was listed in extreme or exceptional drought. The report says 98 percent of Indiana is in at least moderate drought. Kentucky has also been hard hit by drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a drought disaster in all but four of the commonwealth’s 120 counties.
A federal judge has ruled that the Tennessee Valley Authority is responsible for a massive coal ash spill near Knoxville in 2008.From The Tennesseean:Had TVA acted appropriately, the underlying failure of the North Dike "would have been investigated, addressed, and potentially remedied before the catastrophic failure,” said Judge Thomas Varlan of the Eastern District.The authority repeatedly sought to have the case dismissed. A five-week trial was held last September on whether the nation’s largest public utility should be responsible for the spill. The authority maintained its innocence. Today’s decision affirms that TVA was, in fact, blameworthy.The spill's cleanup is on-going and has been estimated at $1 billion. It is expected to be completed by 2015.In a statement released after the ruling, TVA said it "remains committed to the full restoration of the community directly impacted by the spill, while being mindful of our responsibility to manage ratepayer dollars."More than 800 people are seeking damages from the disaster, and the TVA has already spent more than $11 million in legal fees stemming from the spill.Coal ash is the byproduct left over after coal is burned at power plants. It's stored in ponds and dry landfills in Louisville, at Louisville Gas & Electric's Cane Run and Mill Creek power plants.
Louisville's string of forecasted bad air days continues tomorrow with another Air Quality Alert--for the third consecutive day this week.Elevated levels of ozone were also predicted yesterday (even though there was no actual ozone exceedence) and there's an Air Quality Alert in effect today. Tomorrow, the Air Quality Index is forecast to be 101, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups.Tomorrow marks the 25th Air Quality Alert so far this year. There have been 20 days when ozone levels exceeded the standard.For air quality updates, call (502) 574-3319.
The Louisville Air Pollution Control District is forecasting an unhealthy air day tomorrow, and has put an Air Quality Alert for ozone in effect.The Air Quality Index is expected to be 104, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups.For air quality updates, call (502) 574-3319.
Something that may be of interest to those who have had trouble breathing on some of Louisville's unhealthy air days this summer: increase your vitamin C intake.A study published in the journal Epidemiology last month found that people with low levels of vitamin C (and asthma or COPD) had trouble breathing on bad air days. They were 1.2 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital than their similarly ill and vitamin C-infused counterparts, as Lindsey Konkel reports for My Health News Daily.Study researcher Cristina Canova said, "the protective effect of vitamin C was still present after excluding smokers and elderly subjects, implying that the effect of this antioxidant was not explained by smoking or age." However, the study noted that smokers and older people tend to have lower levels of many nutrients than nonsmokers.Because the study participants had either asthma or COPD, it's not clear whether vitamin C would benefit people without these ailments.Most people get enough vitamin C in their daily diet, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and taking high doses of the vitamin has never been shown to improve asthma.It's important to note that most of Louisville's air pollution problems have been caused by ozone this summer. This study looked at the problems associated with particulate matter. But if you have chronic lung problems, or even if you don't, it still probably wouldn't hurt to eat some citrus and broccoli.
There's an Air Quality Alert in effect today, and the Air Pollution Control District has already predicted that ozone levels will also be high tomorrow.The Air Quality Index is forecast to be 106, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups, like the elderly, the young and those with heart and lung conditions.For air quality updates, call (502) 574-3319.
Financial news service SNL has a story out today with a few more details about the deal that was announced earlier this week between Kentucky coal producers and an Indian company.SNL found out that the coal will be traveling by barge via the port at New Orleans. What's interesting for Kentucky--and probably not too surprising to those in the coal industry--is that saying "nine million tons a year for 25 years" isn't really accurate. SNL reports that production will ramp up to nine million tons, but it could take several years.John Grantham, vice president with River Trading Co. Ltd., told SNL Energy that about 120,000 tons of coal would be delivered in the first shipment to India conglomerate Abhijeet Group. Plans ultimately call for the delivery of up to 9 million tons annually of Kentucky and West Virginia coal to Abhijeet, although Grantham said it could be several years before the volume reaches that level as infrastructure might need to be installed to handle that amount of traffic by barge or rail.River Trading, a coal sourcing and trading firm, has docks on the Kanawha River in Marmet, W.Va., and on the Big Sandy River near Huntington, W.Va., that will be used to transport the coal to Gulf terminals, he said. River Trading would also be responsible for procuring the coal under the deal and blending it to the customer's specifications.About two million tons will be provided by Booth Energy, with the rest coming from other Kentucky and West Virginia producers.Another interesting point to note from SNL's story: reporter Dan Lowrey couldn't get anyone to verify the $7 billion figure Governor Steve Beshear's office put out in the news release.
Last week, there was huge news for the coal industry. Kentucky coal producers signed a deal to export up to nine million tons of coal a year for the next 25 years, to the reported tune of $7 billion.I’ve already covered why the deal is good news for struggling Appalachian coal producers (but not good enough news to turn the industry around), the extent of Rep. Keith Hall’s involvement, and what the increased coal exports could mean for the environment. But now I’m hearing conflicting opinions about why this deal actually happened in the first place, and whether or not it makes sense. An email to Indian coal group Abhijeet hasn’t been returned, and no one answers the phone at FJS Energy, the New Jersey-based group that brokered the deal (and whose board features Kentucky state Rep. Keith Hall). There are still many unanswered questions, including, as SNL pointed out last week, that no one has been able to verify the $7 billion price tag.So, with the caveat that none of the experts I’ve spoken with have any insider knowledge about the specifics of the deal, here are some of the questions that have emerged.Why the deal doesn’t make senseJames Stevenson is a coal analyst for IHS, focusing on North American coal. He called the deal “absolutely fishy.”Appalachian coal is expensiveStevenson says he’s not sure why the Abhijeet Group would look towards Appalachian coal supplies to fill the void in India. There are much closer places to get coal, like South Africa, Indonesia and Australia. Appalachian coal is higher quality—it has a higher BTU—but it’s costly to mine thanks to the topography of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.But this means it’s the most expensive coal you can buy. Central Appalachian coal is currently selling at about $60 a ton, compared to about $47 a ton for coal from the Illinois Basin. And that’s before you add on transportation costs.“My outlook is that the Appalachian Basin becomes a mostly metallurgical coal-producing basin,” Stevenson said. Most of America’s metallurgical coal reserves are in West Virginia, and met coal has already been in demand in India for industrial uses, like steel-making. But this new deal is for both metallurgical coal and thermal coal, which is used for electricity.Stevenson says even if Abhijeet can’t get necessary quantities of thermal coal from countries that are geographically closer to India, a logical choice is to look to the cheaper coal mined in the Illinois Basin (which includes the Western Kentucky coalfields).“To be honest with you, I’m astonished that Abhijeet, why they wouldn’t be buying Illinois Basin,” he said. “I’m still puzzled.”(As an aside, for awhile, Illinois Basin coal wasn’t as in demand in the U.S., because it has higher sulfur content than Appalachian coal, and burns dirtier. But now that most power plants are outfitted with scrubbers, they can burn the cheaper coal with the same sulfur emissions as Appalachian coal.)How much coal can Appalachian producers export?The terms of the deal that have been released suggest that Booth Energy will supply up to two million tons of coal a year, and the remaining seven million tons or so will come from other producers. Eastern Kentucky produced 68 million tons of coal in 2010, and most of it was used domestically. West Virginia produced 143 million tons last year, and the industry estimates about 50 million tons were exported overseas.“I think it’s going to be a really hard task for Booth or River Trading or whoever to source another seven million tons per year,” Stevenson said.How much profit can Indian electrical utilities make off of this deal?Another valid point that Stevenson makes is that electricity in India is tariff-based. Utilities get a fixed price on producing electricity, but the expense of buying and burning coal fluctuates with the market. So, unless there are significant subsidies involved (which there may be—the Indian government probably doesn’t want another blackout like the one the country experienced at the end of July), the economics of buying expensive coal for Indian electricity don’t really work out.Why the deal DOES make senseIndia needs coal…John Morgan is the president of Morgan Worldwide, a mine consulting firm that’s based in Lexington. He says he was surprised by the twenty-five year term of the deal, but he wasn’t surprised by the deal itself.Morgan says India is growing at such a rate that its own coal reserves can’t keep up.“I’ve seen that India has been looking for greater imports of thermal coal, both for industrial and power generation because Coal India has been unable to supply the requirements of the industry,” he said. “Therefore, India has been importing coal from Indonesia and South Africa and is continuing to look at other sources of coal for its industrial requirements.”…and Appalachian coal is high qualityMorgan points out that the high-value of Appalachian coal also means that it’s a bigger BTU bang for each buck.“Indian coal has historically been very high ash,” Morgan said. “About 40 percent ash.”He estimates Appalachian coal is only 10 to 12 percent ash. So if you’re going to take the trouble to load coal onto a barge and ship it thousands of miles, you might as well get the highest quality coal possible.“[Appalachian coal] is higher quality than Illinois basin because of the sulfur content, and higher quality than the Powder River Basin,” Morgan said. “Because PRB coal is sub-bituminous, and therefore has a lower calorific value, or heat content.”Maybe there’s significant wiggle-roomJames Stevenson of IHS points out that there may be significant optionality in the deal. This means that Abhijeet can choose how much Appalachian coal they can take, and when they want it. So, they can wait until the price works for them, and then order the coal.Or maybe Abhijeet is betting on cheap Appalachian coal.This is another option. Everyone I’ve talked to says the price of coal included in the deal will likely fluctuate based on the market price. But Abhijeet may have locked in a slightly below-market rate, and is betting on coal prices rising everywhere else in the world, while Appalachian prices fall. Obviously, this scenario isn’t a good prediction for Appalachia’s economy. Stevenson says his outlook has Appalachian coal sitting at the cost of production—plus a dollar or two—for the next several decades.It stands to reason that the deal makes sense financially for all the parties involved, or else they wouldn’t have agreed to it. But right now there are a lot of missing details and unanswered questions. Some of them might not be resolved for several years, when there’s a clearer picture of the future of the Appalachian coal industry, exports and the global demand for coal.
The members of Louisville rock band My Morning Jacket appear in a new campaign by non-profit Earthjustice that opposes mountaintop removal coal mining.Earthjustice's Mountain Heroes campaign includes photos and videos submitted by people who are against the controversial form of surface mining. These range from local environmental activists--like Teri Blanton, Maria Gunnoe and Chuck Nelson--to celebrities (Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Edward Norton, Alexandra Cousteau)--to people around the country who submit their own stories.On the Mountain Heroes website, Earthjustice says this about My Morning Jacket:While the band has gained fame, they've stayed true to their environmental ideals and have worked to foster environmental stewardship among their fans and at their shows, working with advocacy partners such as Rock The Earth to educate concert-goers on critical environmental issues, and playing in environmentally focused festivals such as the Forecastle Festival.My Morning Jacket has been associated with environmental causes in the past. In 2010, Jim James collaborated with Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore to release a CD that drew attention to mountaintop removal and its effects. All three musicians performed at a benefit for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth at the Brown Theatre.The Mountain Heroes page includes this message from the band:"We are My Morning Jacket. We want to see an end to mountaintop removal. We care about our mountains and Appalachia."