Louisville’s first Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG, station will be unveiled Wednesday near the city’s international airport and officials are encouraging both businesses and individuals to make the switch to the cleaner fuel alternative.This will be the first CNG station in Louisville, and only the second in Kentucky. CNG burns cleaner than gasoline, but the vehicles that use it often cost more. That hasn’t stopped investment from companies like Waste Management, which plans to add 25 CNG vehicles to its Louisville fleet this year.Company spokesman Ken Haldin said its unclear how many CNG vehicles are in use across the country, although the transition from gasoline to alternative-fuel vehicles has been slow.“While there’s not any hard numbers around it, its clear trend-wise, whether it be here in Louisville or elsewhere, that this is the kind of thing that its time has come," he said.If companies are willing to make the investment in CNG vehicles, it could save money in the long run, as well as help clean up the environment, said Haldin.“Certainly there’s a lot of interest that’s been generated in almost every location where we operate and not the least of which is Louisville and Kentucky for this type of service and its one of those opportunities where, as you build it more will come," he said.While CNG is generally cheaper than gasoline, CNG stations are not available in every state. Waste Management will be offering fast-fill for individual car owners and time-fill for its fleet, which allows vehicles to sit overnight while its tank fills.Last month, Westport announced it had contracted with Ford Motor Company to install fuel systems on some of the company's trucks to offer customers a bi-fuel system.Clean Vehicle Education Foundation is offering a one-day workshop Tuesday for public and private fleet operators and clean air/clean-transportation policymakers.For more information on the workshop, click here.
After reviewing task force recommendations for over two months, Mayor Greg Fischer says he supports the consolidation process between the Metropolitan Sewer District and the Louisville Water Company, but a full merger is not set in stone.Combining city-run MSD and quasi-governmental agency Louisville Water Company could mean savings between $14 million to $24 million, according to a task force and private audit company Black and Veatch, which reviewed MSD's budget after a state audit found waste in the agency.The process to begin consolidation needed Fischer's approval, which he gave Tuesday at a joint meeting between the two boards, but the process of combining resources will be slow to ensure its success, officials said.Fischer said beginning immediately the two agencies could start to form small agreements to cut down on costs and redundancies. Over the next few years that relationship will expand, with caution.“There are issues we have got to get through from a financial and a legal, legislative standpoint. That’s all part of the due diligence process," said Fischer.A full merger may not be necessary depending on the due diligence performed throughout the next several years, he said, and its unclear if the two agencies have a clear and supported path to merge.There may be legislative hurdles that the city may need to clear and officials could not say whether merger would mean lay-offs.
A new report out today provides new information about the connections between commonly-used chemicals and the prevalence of diseases. Groups that advocate for safer chemicals are using the data to lobby for updates to federal legislation.The report looks at the chemicals connected to diseases like cancer, autism and learning disabilities. These problems are occurring more frequently, and Kentucky Environmental Foundation director Elizabeth Crowe says there are huge loopholes in the current law that place lives at risk.“What this law does is just allow business as usual,” she said. “It allows chemicals to go right from the laboratory to the store shelf without any rigorous testing.”Monica Unseld is a biologist in Bardstown. She says the federal government needs to enhance the Toxic Substances Control Act, which hasn’t been updated since 1976.“If it were Tylenol or Cialis or any other pharmaceutical they have to test it,” she said. “But if it’s pesticides on our food, if it’s dyes they put in our food or flame retardants in our products, they can go straight to market.”Groups lobbying for safer chemicals have been championing a bill by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg that updates the 1976 legislation. The bill was introduced last year, but hasn’t yet passed out of the Senate.
The Environmental Protection Agency will update residents tomorrow evening on the efforts to develop new pollution limits for the Floyds Fork watershed.Floyds Fork has been designated as “impaired,” which means its waterway can’t fulfill its designated functions. The state Division of Water has asked the EPA to help determine the maximum amount of pollution that can be discharged into the watershed without exceeding the state water quality standard.At the meeting, the EPA will update stakeholders on the process. With the Kentucky Division of Water, the agency is still in the process of developing the final model for the watershed. Officials have also begun reaching out to people in the community to gather as much information as possible.The meeting is tomorrow at 7:00 at Middletown Elementary School.
A new study compares the taxes Kentucky and neighboring states levy on natural resources, and recommends Kentucky set up a severance trust fund.Kentucky taxes coal, as well as other natural resources. Most of the money goes to the state, but a small amount goes back to the counties where the coal was mined. The report by analysts with the Central Appalachia Regional Network lays out the different ways each of six Appalachian states handle the severance taxes.“And each state, and these are six neighboring states, treats it differently, they collect it differently, they spend it differently,” says Kimber Simmons, who worked on the report and is the associate director for the Industrial Development Authority in Wythe County, Virginia.The report makes the case for creating a severance tax trust fund to invest the money. Roy Silver contributed to the report, and teaches sociology at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. He says that trust fund will be necessary to supplement state and county budgets after coal production has decreased.“If you visualize this as a graph, the trust fund increases because it’s cumulative and the amount of money from severance tax decreases, because the resources are a finite resource,” he said.The report also recommends that all states raise the severance taxes to five percent. Kentucky currently taxes coal at a rate of four-and-a-half percent.
Nineteen miners died in the first half of 2012, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s mid-year summary.Ten of those deaths were in coal mines (the rest were in metal or nonmetal mines). And five of them were in Kentucky—four of them in coal mines, and one in a limestone mine.According to the release from MSHA:Among 10 coal mining deaths, three resulted from slips or falls, two from rib falls and one each from the following categories: exploding vessels under pressure, drowning, handling materials, machinery and electrical. An uncharacteristic trend identified is that five of these fatalities – three involving mine supervisors – occurred on five consecutive weekends.Among nine metal and nonmetal mining deaths, four were attributed to powered haulage incidents, two were the result of a falling face/rib/highwall, and one each was linked to an accident involving machinery, falling material and a person falling.“While 19 is the second-lowest number of mining deaths recorded in mining midyear, we know that these deaths are preventable,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “Many mines operate every shift of every day, year in and year out, without a fatality or a lost-time injury. Mining workplaces can and must be made safe for all miners.”The mid-year summary records deaths up until July 1, and there's been one death since: at a coal mine in Colorado. Thirty-seven miners were killed last year.
iWatch News has more details about one of the studies I blogged about earlier this week. The report from the U.S. Geological Survey hasn't been finalized yet, but preliminary results suggest people living near surface coal mines in Appalachia are exposed to different--and more toxic--chemicals in the soil and water than people in other parts of the country. In the piece, reporter Alice Su spoke with Bill Orem, one of the study's authors.Bill Orem, USGS research geochemist and project chief, said mining areas display “unusually high” pH and conductivity levels in the water, abnormal air particulate loading, and irregular levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soil and streams. Several PAH compounds are probable or possible human carcinogens.“The water chemistry is definitely affected by something,” said Orem, who emphasized that the findings are preliminary and studies are ongoing. The coal-derived compounds in soil samples were also “certainly different from soils we’re seeing in non-mining areas.” The air content of silica particles, which cause lung disease, was “definitely higher.”“You can see that just from looking at the filters,” Orem said.Orem cautioned that the USGS would be “prudent” about connecting preliminary results with health problems. “You have to be conservative in your statements. It can’t be driven by people’s feelings,” he said. “It has to be a scientific, data-driven process.”Once this study becomes final, it could provide the hard evidence that scientists have been looking for to explain high levels of disease near surface mines. Previous studies have shown that mining communities have higher instances of disease, but so far there hasn't been data on what specifically in these communities is causing sickness.
Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials say there’s still work to be done at the Lees Lane Landfill site in southwest Louisville, though they don’t believe the site is currently a danger to nearby residents.The landfill was closed in 1975, but many of those still living in Riverside Gardens remember seeing hazardous waste being trucked in. It was declared a Superfund site in the 1980s and underwent remediation. In 1996, it was taken off the national priority list, but the EPA continues to monitor the site. Twenty-five companies that dumped at the landfill have paid money for the clean-up, and Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District agreed to do maintenance on the site for 29 years, or until it spent $250,000.Representatives from the agency were at a community meeting Thursday evening near the landfill. Donna Seadler is a remedial project manager with the EPA’s regional office. She’s overseeing the work at Lees Lane, and says there are still a few questions to be answered. ”With landfills, they don’t go away,” she said. “So, this one has been in operations and maintenance since it was de-listed from the Superfund list in 1996 and there have been some ongoing issues since the de-listing that have been identified.”Although it’s very likely people who have lived in Riverside Gardens for decades were exposed to toxic chemicals, Seadler says the EPA doesn’t think there’s any current danger from the site, as long as people respect the “no trespassing” signs and stay away.The EPA plans to take a groundwater survey this fall to see if anyone in the neighborhood is still using wells. They also need to determine if there’s still a danger from methane at the site, and if so, replace methane wells. That’s trickier, finance-wise, because methane wells are expensive and the MSD is nearing the cap of the money it agreed to spend on remediation.But people at the meeting were angry. Terri Humphry lives in Riverside Gardens. She says the work the EPA did on the methane wells is appreciated, but:“We have more problems than just methane gas,” she said. “There’s arsenic, there’s all kinds of chemicals back there, and we feel they’re leaching into our neighborhood.”The EPA says there have been no signs of groundwater or soil contamination in years, but residents accused the agency of insufficient monitoring.The Lees Lane site undergoes environmental reviews every five years, and is due for another next year.
According to a new analysis by U.S. House Democrats, an increasing percentage of coal from mountaintop removal mines is being exported overseas. The report was released this morning, as the House Natural Resources committee held a hearing on a proposed stream buffer rule to protect Appalachian streams from coal mine pollution.The report is called “Our Pain, Their Gain,” and was prepared by the committee’s Democratic staff. It’s being promoted by environmental groups as proof that surface mining is a greater benefit to other countries than the United States, where it hurts Appalachian communities.“American families are being subjected to coal mine pollution and damage, just so exports to China and other foreign nations can increase,” said ranking Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts in a release that accompanied the report. “The coal may be shipped to foreign markets, but the diseases, the destroyed mountaintops, and the environmental ruin from these destructive practices are staying right here in America.”The data shows that coal exports are on the rise. More surface mines export some coal overseas, and the share of production that’s being exported is increasing, too. Several operations—mostly in Pennsylvania and Virginia—are shipping nearly all of the coal mined to other countries.Most of the coal being shipped overseas is metallurgical coal: coal that’s used to make steel. That’s in demand as countries like China and India are developing. But some thermal coal—which is used for heat—is exported too.Coal exports have doubled since 2009, but it’s important to note that as a whole, exports still only account for 12 percent of all the coal mined in the U.S. And while those fighting surface mining see the report as vindication that Appalachian communities are suffering to help power China and India, the coal industry argues that coal exports are strengthening the industry as American electricity is moving toward natural gas.“The complaint here seems to be that other countries are getting the economic benefit of coal,” Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said. “Well, in that respect, I do agree with Congressman Markey. The United States should get more of the economic benefit from coal, and coal usage does make sense economically.”Bissett says half of the coal in eastern Kentucky is surface mined, but the vast majority of the coal produced in the state stays domestic.Besides environmental effects, recent studies have linked surface mining to health problems like cancer, respiratory diseases and birth defects.
A report released today from the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee analyzed coal export data and found that mountaintop removal mines are sending an increased percentage of coal produced oversees.The report used data from the Energy Information Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and data self-reported by the mines. Here's a summary of what they found:The number of mountaintop removal, steep slope and surface mines exporting coal from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia increased from 73 mines in 2008 to 97 in 2011.Coal exports from these mines in these four states have grown by 91 percent since 2009 to 13.2 million tons in 2011.25 of those mines exported more than half of their production in 2011. One Russian company is exporting nearly 83 percent of the coal from three mines in West Virginia, and five mines are shipping 100 percent of their coal abroad.Overall, these 97 mines exported 27 percent of their production in 2011, more than doubling from 13 percent exported in 2008.I'll be speaking with several people about the study and its methodology later this afternoon, and will update the story.
Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency will be in Louisville tomorrow to discuss a former toxic Superfund site.New environmental issues have arisen at the Lees Lane Landfill in West Louisville.The landfill was closed in 1975. After 400 drums of hazardous materials were found on the site near the Ohio River several years later, Lees Lane was classified as a toxic Superfund site, and cleanup began.The site was removed from the Superfund list in 1996, but problems still plague the area. There are concerns about methane built up in the landfill, groundwater and air contamination...and frequent trespassing.Now, the EPA wants to commission another study on the environmental hazards at Lees Lane. They’ll present background on the site and a plan for going forward at the meeting.The meeting is Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Farnsley Middle School.
A new report from by the Sierra Club estimates how much sulfur dioxide is emitted from nine Kentucky power plants and it finds that all nine of them—including the Mill Creek and Cane Run power plants in Louisville—are violating the national air quality standards.Sulfur dioxide has been linked to health issues like pulmonary inflammation, asthma, emphysema and other lung conditions.But the data in the Sierra Club’s report is collected differently from how the local Air Pollution Control District measures sulfur dioxide. Here are three things to know when reading the report, or perusing Metro Government’s air monitoring data:The EPA set the 1 hour sulfur dioxide standard at 75 parts per billion in August, 2010. That means since then, air monitoring has to show that there’s less than 75 units of sulfur dioxide in every billion parts of air measured. The standard relies on an hourly average.The Air Pollution Control District uses air monitoring to keep track of the pollution, while the Sierra Club used air modeling. Air monitoring takes a snapshot of the air at any given moment, while modeling relies on lots of different known and estimated factors (like weather, the height of smokestacks, etc.) to make a fairly educated prediction about how much pollution is present at any given moment. Both are accepted methods—the EPA has approved the city’s use of monitoring, and has also endorsed modeling.The Sierra Club’s data shows egregious air pollution violations. At Cane Run, it models sulfur dioxide emissions at 27 times the allowable amount. At Mill Creek, it estimates levels about six times too high. But the actual monitoring data from the city tells a different story. It shows that in 2012, there have been only 13 exceedences for sulfur dioxide, all at the Watson Lane Elementary monitor, which is only about a mile away from Mill Creek. The highest daily maximum recorded there is about three times higher than the air quality standard.So there’s differing data, and whatever you look at, sulfur dioxide is definitely a concern in Jefferson County. But I think the takeaway from this study and the city’s data is that the EPA could revisit the sulfur dioxide air quality standard in 2015 (or even sooner if there's a compelling reason to). If it does, and if it makes it more stringent, Louisville will have to find a way to come into compliance (the area is technically listed as in attainment for sulfur dioxide, despite several exceedences).This should be easier over the next few years. Coal-fired power plants are the main source of sulfur dioxide, and the Cane Run Power Plant is scheduled to be retired by 2016 and replaced by natural gas. And at Mill Creek, Louisville Gas & Electric is in the process of installing new pollution controls which will reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide the plant emits. There’s also the Gallagher plant in southern Indiana, which has been blowing pollution into Louisville for fifty years. Half of the plant was retired earlier this year, which should also help reduce Louisville’s air pollution.
Three new studies have added more scientific evidence to support ill health effects from mountaintop removal coal mining.Over the past few years, several studies have presented evidence supporting links between health problems—like cancer and birth defects—that are more prevalent in communities with mountaintop removal mines. But these new studies attempt to pinpoint specific pollutants that could be causing those health problems.Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette had a nice overview of the studies—which have all been presented at conferences but not yet published in peer reviewed journals.In the latest paper, USGS researchers gathered samples of particular matter deposited in communities near mountaintop removal operations and compared the chemical composition to similar material collected in other Southern West Virginia locations. They found higher levels of certain elements that indicate the dust is coming from the overburden, or the rock removed to get at the coal at nearby mining operations."It's not too surprising, since they blow up rocks to get at the coal," said USGS research geologist Allan Kolker, who delivered a paper on the results at a conference last month in Montreal.Another paper by researchers at West Virginia University finds that air particulate matter from mountaintop removal communities was larger than in other communities, and was a size that was more likely to be deposited in human lungs. And for the other study, WVU scientists exposed lab rats to mountaintop removal dust, and found that the rats’ blood vessels constricted and reduced blood flow.These studies could be significant, and address some of the major criticisms from industry directed at previous studies. On his blog, Ward sums it up like this:While the studies to date are incredibly compelling, and reason for serious public health concerns, these latest (and still unpublished) papers are just beginning to dig into questions that might, with even more research, get to the issue of causation. We’ve discussed here before my own concerns about how activists overplay the findings of these papers. The coal industry, of course, wants to pretend the papers don’t exist, fund research aimed at trying to discredit them (see here, here and here), or raise outlandish claims that if there is any problem, it’s all because we’re a bunk of inbred hicks.
Louisville Gas and Electric is asking the case against the company for its role in a residential gas explosion in December be dismissed. In documents filed with the Kentucky Public Service Commission yesterday, the company disagrees with many of the state's conclusions as to the cause of the explosion.In the very early morning of December 6, LG&E responded to reports of a strong gas odor in a neighborhood near Preston Highway. The house exploded shortly after 7:00 that morning. The family was able to get outside before the explosion, but a dog was killed.In an investigation made public last month, the PSC alleges LG&E committed several violations that contributed to the explosion, including allowing a plastic gas pipeline to exceed its maximum allowable operating pressure, and not taking the necessary steps to avoid an explosion.LG&E disagrees with those conclusions, and is asking the PSC to delay the hearing scheduled for November 27. If the company and the state come to an agreement on a settlement, a hearing could be avoided. But if there's no settlement, the Public Service Commissioners could decide to proceed with a formal hearing.LG&E faces fines of up to $25,000 a day for each violation.