Carbon capture has been out of the news lately, as many power plants have abandoned efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide. But the University of Kentucky says the technology is still relevant.UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research will host a carbon capture workshop in September. It’s meant for utility members and researchers to learn more about the technology.Carbon capture refers to capturing carbon as it’s emitted from burning fossil fuels, and then sequestering it underground. The technology has lost steam in the United States, mostly because without regulation limiting or taxing carbon dioxide emissions, it’s not economical. But Jim Neathery of the Center for Applied Energy Research says it’s a good opportunity to further research and develop the technology.“The pressure’s off a little bit to get something in the field for utility members immediately,” he said. “So now we’re taking a more studied approach where we can learn more and more effectively design better systems that capture carbon from fossil fuel plants.”The workshop is September 25 through 26 in Lexington.
A western Kentucky county has approved changes that will allow a new coal mine to be opened, but there are some restrictions once mining begins.The Daviess County Fiscal court voted unanimously last night to uphold the rezoning of nearly 700 acres in the southern end of the county. But county officials also placed some limits on what type of equipment could be used at the mine and when the mine could operate.The mine will be operated by Western Kentucky Minerals. The company officials estimate that about 2.1 million tons of coal are embedded in the land it wants to mine through surface or strip mining techniques.An attorney representing homeowners who oppose the mine says no decision has been made whether to challenge the mine in court.
Kentucky environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald has turned down an award from the federal Office of Surface Mining.FitzGerald--also the head of the Kentucky Resources Council--was to be the first-ever recipient of the ECHO Award, named for the agency's stated principles of Environment, Community, Humanity, and Ownership. The award was given out yesterday in recognition of the 35th anniversary of the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, or SMCRA.But FitzGerald says rather than a time for celebration, SMCRA's 35th anniversary is a "somber reminder" that the act's promises to the coalfields hasn't been kept.In substantial measure, these promises have been betrayed, and across the nation’s coalfields, communities have borne the burden of the breach of these commitments. The citizens of the coalfields of the eastern and western United States have waited through successive administrations since 1981 to see the promises that Congress made in 1977 fulfilled. In a number of key areas, the failure of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to assure full and fair implementation of the law has betrayed the promise Congress made to those who live in coalfield communities– that they would be protected from harm, that mining would be a temporary use of land, that reclamation would contemporaneously follow excavation of coal, and that the amount of time between disturbance of the earth and completion of reclamation would be minimized. Though Congress intended that the choice of technology would follow, rather than dictate, environmental protection, the coal industry has over the decades systematically replaced the workforce with larger machines more indiscriminate to the terrain, and key concepts in the law have been weakened by regulatory interpretations in order to accommodate this shift.After FitzGerald turned down the award, the Office of Surface Mining awarded it to David Clark, an environmental regulator from New Mexico. In an e-mail, OSM spokesman Chris Holmes said after FitzGerald indicated he wouldn't accept the ECHO Award, OSM chose another deserving candidate. "Clark led the development of the geomorphic reclamation technique, a method of reclamation that returns mined lands to the closest form and function of the land before mining," he wrote. " Clark’s dedication to reclaiming the land and his 20 plus years of public service exemplify the attributes for which the ECHO Award was created."To read FitzGerald's whole letter, click here.
As expected, Louisville's air was unhealthy yesterday. But there are discrepancies as to exactly how unhealthy.Air Pollution Control District spokesman Tom Nord says the highest recorded reading was at the district's air monitor in New Albany. It registered 104 parts per billion of ozone in the air, which translates to a 172 on the Air Quality Index. That's a red alert--when the air is unhealthy for everyone to breathe.But the federal government-run AIRNow website reported different data. At one point yesterday, Nord says AIRNow reported an AQI of 201 in Louisville, which is categorized in the purple range, or VERY unhealthy for everyone. Jim Bruggers of the Courier-Journal has a screenshot here.The APCD still isn't sure why the two numbers don't line up. Nord says AIRNow gets its information directly from the APCD's air pollution monitors, and the district is checking to see why the site reported different information. I'll update here when I hear back with an answer.UPDATE: 3:35. Tom Nord from the Air Pollution Control District confirmed that the discrepancy lies with how AIRNow and the APCD calculate the ozone levels. The district uses an eight-hour average, which is the standard approach. But AIRNow runs a calculation to generate a "real-time" estimation of the air quality. So, both numbers are right. At the New Albany monitor, ozone levels did spike and for a time, the AQI was at 201. But overall the AQI for the eight hour period was 172. Either way, both numbers are unhealthy."I agree that it’s better to overstate the danger of ozone rather than understate it, but it’s a tough line to walk," Nord wrote in an email. "Overall, I think we do our best to warn people that the air might be bad on a given day without creating undue panic or anxiety."
The regional compact that oversees water quality in the Ohio River has a new chairman. Kenneth Komoroski is an attorney that often represents the oil and gas industry.The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission—or ORSANCO—is a regional body that oversees pollution in the Ohio River. It’s governed by a board made up of members from all eight member states, plus up to three federal commissioners appointed by the president. The board appoints its own chair.Of the 24 people currently on ORSANCO’s board, about half are state environmental regulators or other state officials. Several represent wastewater treatment plant operators, one is a professor, and three are lawyers for the extraction industry.Komoroski falls into the latter camp. His resume includes two decades representing oil and gas companies—the industries that are currently under fire for a practice called “fracking,” and which produce large amounts of wastewater. ORSANCO is, of course, the body responsible for regulating that discharge if it goes into the Ohio River and environmental groups are concerned as chair Komoroski will be more lenient on polluters.
Kentucky politicians have been lining up to praise a judge’s decision earlier this week to overturn the new way the Environmental Protection Agency has been evaluating coal mining permits. The EPA was sued by the National Mining Association and several individual states, including Kentucky. But the ruling could have few practical implications for the coal industry.In 2010, the EPA announced it would start evaluating Appalachian coal mine permits based on conductivity. Conductivity is the measure of dissolved solids—typically sulfates—in a waterway, and science has shown that elevated levels impair streams.Under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act, Kentucky is given the authority to issue permits for water pollution, while the EPA still has final authority over the process. The ruling earlier this week was that the agency couldn’t use this benchmark as a basis for rejecting permits. But the agency still has the authority to review and veto permits, and attorney Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council says the ruling doesn’t put the conductivity issue to rest.“This will change somewhat the way that they approach that,” he said. “But if anyone thinks this gives a green light to the coal industry to damage streams with elevated levels of sulfates, they have another think coming.”Last year, the agency issued specific objections to 36 Kentucky coal mine permits, partially on the basis of conductivity. FitzGerald says the recent ruling doesn’t mean those permits will automatically be approved—it will just force the EPA to change the way it addresses conductivity.“Nothing in the rejection of that guidance prevents EPA from saying to a state, ‘We don’t believe you have addressed the potential for sulfate discharges here, and we believe that this permit will cause a violation of your approved water quality standard.’”Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bruce Scott agrees that there are still a number of unanswered questions when it comes to federal government involvement in the permitting process."The only thing it changes is, as far as the court is concerned, is how the EPA is to oversee the activities of the delegated states under the 402 program," he said. "And that still has a number of unanswered questions that are associated with it. We don’t know for example how the EPA will view this ruling, in the context of how its oversight should or shouldn’t be."The ruling also doesn’t necessarily provide the regulatory certainty that coal industry officials and regulators have recently been clamoring for, because the legal process may drag on for longer if the EPA appeals the ruling. But regardless, the agency can still take other steps to determine that sulfate discharges violate a state’s water quality standard and require conductivity be addressed.
A new smart phone app currently in development would allow Louisville residents to participate in cataloging the city’s trees—as well as create a wish lists of sorts for more trees in their neighborhoods.The “Louisville Tree” app will eventually allow users to peruse interactive maps of the city, along with pinpoints marking the locations of different varieties of trees. There’s also a way to report dying or unsafe trees to the city.The app is technically available for iPhones and in the app store, but it hasn’t been officially released. Louisville Economic Growth and Innovation spokeswoman Rebecca Fleischaker says it’s in the process of being re-tooled, but she’s not sure when it will be updated. Right now, there are numerous glitches in the app and it doesn’t perform how it’s meant to.The app is part of a new initiative by Metro Government to better protect and manage the city’s aging tree canopy.
A team of data analysts is recommending Louisville pursue public-private partnerships to help collect and organize data to help residents with asthma.The team was paid for with a grant from technology company IBM’s Smarter Cities program. Members were in Louisville last month interviewing people and collecting data, and revealed preliminary recommendations today.Team member Anne Fitzpatrick explained how the aggregation of multiple sources of data could help those who suffer from asthma.“Now there are many things that go into keeping control of asthma," she said. "But knowing the air quality is one of them. Air quality, particularly is important in terms of understanding what pollutants are out there that might be worsening a condition, or what triggers such as grass, mold, trees and weeds.”About 15 percent of Louisville adults have asthma, which is higher than both the state and national average.The shared data compiled by the IBM team—as well as the city’s yearlong Asthmapolis study—will provide another tool for residents with asthma to manage the condition. The final report is expected in eight weeks.
The coal industry and officials from numerous states, including Kentucky, claimed victory yesterday after a federal judge ruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s new guidance on water pollution near surface mines overstepped the agency’s authority. But the judge’s decision still doesn’t add certainty to the industry’s permitting process.Many states—including Kentucky—have federal authority to oversee their own water permitting programs. The states set water quality guidelines, which are approved by the EPA, and have the authority to issue or deny permits. But the EPA still has final say over the permits, and was using the measurement of a water body’s conductivity to help determine whether the mine could be permitted and still not violate water quality standards.Judge Reggie Walton objected to this approach, which he saw as a way for the agency to sidestep the official rulemaking process and an overstepping of the agency’s authority.This is unequivocally a win for the coal industry, as well as for the state regulatory programs that joined the industry to challenge the rule. But the ruling still doesn’t eliminate uncertainty into the coal mine permitting process—which has been a major industry criticism of the EPA’s new policies.The EPA could appeal the decision, which would send it back to court. And Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bruce Scott says it’s still too early to know what unintended consequences Judge Walton’s decision could have for the permitting process.Yesterday’s decision is the second highly-anticipated ruling from Judge Walton. In October, he again ruled against the EPA, saying the agency’s practice of coordinating valley fill permit decisions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overstepped the agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
Louisville's Air Pollution Control District says the potential exists for unsafe ozone levels today and tomorrow in the metro area.The Air Quality Index is forecast to be 109 today, and 129 tomorrow. These levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups, including the elderly, the young and people with heart or lung conditions.For hourly air quality updates, call 574-3319.
UPDATE 3:22 p.m.: Diane Bagby of Emergency Management says Code Red alerts went out twice this morning. But they only went to people living within one mile of the plant who were signed up to receive "general alerts," and not just weather. She says the first alert went out at 8:36 a.m. to 198 people, and the second follow up to 10:59 a.m. to 201 people, and it was just meant to alert people who might be close enough to hear sirens that there was no immediate danger.UPDATE 11:45 a.m.: Zeon Manfacturing Support Manager Bill Simpson says the two chemicals were mixed accidentally, and as they decompose, they create hydrogen sulfite. Hydrogen sulfite poses an inhalation risk, which is why plant employees were evacuated.Simpson says the reaction is now stabilized, and the company and emergency workers are waiting for it to end."We’re in unfamiliar territory here," he said. "These [chemicals] are not supposed to be mixed together. We feel we have it mitigated at this point. For all practical purposes, we’re on the downhill side but we have not yet cleared it."Simpson says air monitors outside the building never recorded any hydrogen sulfite, which means there was no danger to the neighborhoods near Rubbertown. The two workers who were hospitalized weren't exposed to hydrogen sulfite, but suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration.Bells Lane is now open to traffic.UPDATE: 11:19 a.m.: According to MetroSafe, two Zeon workers have been transported to the hospital for heat-related illnesses.UPDATE 11:00 a.m.: The chemical reaction was caused by the inadvertent mixture of 11 gallons of two chemicals-- Mercaptan and peroxide--at 8:14 this morning.MetroSafe spokesman Vince Luney says the chemicals are contained in a vessel, and there's no danger to the public. He said the Code Red warning was sent out shortly after the reaction this morning to ZIP codes near the plant. But community activist Eboni Cochran--who lives less than two miles from the plant and in the same ZIP code--says she didn't receive a call, even though she is signed up for the service.Original story: The Zeon Chemical plant in Rubbertown was evacuated this morning after a unplanned chemical reaction.Firefighters are on the scene, as well as Hazmat crews, emergency services personnel, the health department and the Metropolitan Sewer District. A MetroSafe spokesman says there have been no reported injuries, and there's no danger to nearby residents. He says a Code Red alert was sent out this morning to update the plant's neighbors, but no evacuations have been ordered for those nearby.Officials will speak about the chemical reaction at 10:50am.
There was no air quality alert in effect yesterday, but air quality monitors show that ozone levels were at unhealthy levels in at least two areas.The Cannons Lane monitor recorded levels at 83 parts per billion, which translates to an Air Quality Index of 119. At Watson Lane Elementary, levels were at 90 parts per billion, which is an AQI of 137. Levels between 101 and 150 are considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.This was the 17th day with an ozone exceedance so far this year.
A federal judge says the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its powers by setting up water-quality criteria for coal mining operations in Appalachia.U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by a coal mining industry coalition against the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson. Walton said the EPA infringed on the authority given to state regulators by federal clean water and surface mining acts.Last year, the EPA tightened guidelines on the practice of dumping waste into Appalachian valley waterways from surface mine blasting.The National Mining Association, which had denounced the guidelines as a "jobs destroyer," says it's now time to get miners back to work by allowing state permitting agencies to do their jobs.A message left with the EPA wasn't immediately returned.
The Metropolitan Sewer District board will consider its annual budget for the next fiscal year as well as a proposed 6.5 percent rate increase during a special session Monday.Last week, Mayor Greg Fischer announced his support for an MSD, Louisville Water Company merger, which was recommended by a task force earlier this year. The possible savings from merger could be anywhere between $14 million to $24 million, according to an outside audit firm.MSD director Greg Heitzman says a merger could eventually translate to cost-savings for customers and lower rate increases.“The Water Company is on about a 4 percent annual rate increase rate, MSD has been on a 6.5. We pull the two together we can begin to pull those rate increases down," he said.This would MSD’s fourth consecutive 6.5 percent rate increase. According to correspondence between board members in May, the rate increase would boost the average monthly waste water bill from $35.60 to $37.91.According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies Service Charge Survey, the average national rate for the same time period is projected to be $36.18 per month. The NACW estimates the average rate increase this year will be 7.4 percent.MSD officials say the rate increase in Louisville is in large part necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. MSD is under a consent decree, which Heitzman said is common among large cities east of the Mississippi.Last week, Heitzman called the nearly $850 million consent decree set in 2005 affordable. He said while it is a liability to the community, MSD is on schedule and under budget to date.One report shows Louisville pays around 50 cents more for sewage bills than the national average.