Erica Peterson

Erica reports on environment and energy issues for WFPL, which run the gamut from stories about the region’s biodiversity to coal mine safety and pollution issues. In the name of journalism, she’s gone spelunking, tagged mussels and taste-tested bourbon. Erica moved to Louisville in June 2011 from Charleston, West Virginia, where she worked for the state’s public radio and television affiliate. Besides Kentucky and West Virginia, she’s lived in New Jersey, Minnesota and Illinois. She lives with her husband and son in Louisville.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron says his office determined that two of the three officers who fired their weapons were justified when they fatally shot Breonna Taylor.

Officer Myles Cosgrove and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly were returning fire and within their rights to defend themselves, according to Cameron, who spoke in Frankfort Wednesday afternoon at the Kentucky History Center shortly after a grand jury announced it was charging only one of the officers involved in Taylor’s death.

The grand jury indicted former Louisville Metro Police officer Brett Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment, all connected to Hankison firing his gun and endangering Taylor’s neighbors. None of the counts are for firing into Taylor’s apartment, or directly linked to her death.

Jess Clark | WFPL

A coalition of activist groups is renewing their calls against the Kentucky Derby, a day before the 146th running at Churchill Downs.

Groups including Until Freedom and the Justice and Freedom Coalition are planning to protest near the track during Saturday’s races, which will be held without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. Standing on Central Avenue Friday, organizers criticized what they called a provocative response from the city.

“Our reality is that it seems like nobody cares,” said Pastor Mario Martin of the Justice and Freedom Coalition. “How? Because they say ‘We’re going to allow peaceful protest.’ But then if you turn around and look, you see tanks. You see soldiers to stand in opposition to that.”

Ryan Van Velzer

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says the state will take some concrete steps to remedy some of the racial inequities laid bare by both the coronavirus pandemic and the recent protests of police treatment of Black people in Louisville and across the country.

Beshear says the state will begin an effort to extend health insurance to every Black person in Kentucky.

“My commitment today is we are going to begin an effort to cover 100% of our individuals in our Black and African-American communities. Everybody,” Beshear said. “We’re going to be putting dollars behind it, we’re going to have a multi-faceted campaign to do it. But it’s time, especially during COVID-19 when we see what happens when you don’t have coverage; we’re going to make sure everyone does.”

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s administration is seeking to disqualify Attorney General Andy Beshear and his office from participating in a lawsuit filed last week over recent pension reform.

The motion filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court alleges Beshear has a conflict of interest, because he provided legal advice to Kentucky lawmakers on Senate Bill 151. It includes pictures from Twitter of Beshear meeting with House and Senate Democratic leaders “to discuss legal options on pension bill” and speaking at a rally at the Capitol protesting the bill’s passage.

Creative Commons/Mike Mozart

Retail giant Walmart is in the early stages of talks to buy Louisville-based health insurer Humana, according to a report published Thursday evening in the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper cites people familiar with the deal, the terms of which weren’t disclosed. But the move would be the latest in a trend of retail pharmacies acquiring health insurers; in December, CVS bought insurer Humana.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Kentucky Utilities over coal ash pollution in Herrington Lake, ruling that the situation should be addressed by state regulators, rather than the federal court system.

In the opinion signed on December 28, U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves rejects claims by non-profit Earthjustice that the court has authority to rule on the issue under the federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Rather, he said the groundwater pollution and contamination of Herrington Lake should be addressed by Kentucky regulators, who are currently working with the utility to implement corrective actions.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky’s largest electric utility expects to be powered more than 80 percent by natural gas or renewable energy by the middle of this century — regardless of whether the country’s energy policies change.

Last month, PPL — the corporation that owns both Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities — released a climate assessment called for by shareholders. It looks at the Kentucky fleet under three possible scenarios:

Ryland Barton

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover says he’ll step down from his leadership position after reports surfaced saying he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit earlier this year.

In a statement to the media on Sunday, Hoover said he had acted inappropriately, engaging in consensual “banter.”

“But as inappropriate as those text messages were, I want to reiterate that at no time, at no time, did I engage in unwelcome conduct of any kind,” he said. “And at no time were there ever any sexual relations of any kind. There has never been a culture of sexual harassment, as some opportunist would now wrongly claim for their personal political gain.”

University of Kentucky

President Donald Trump is nominating a Lexington engineer to fill the top spot at the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Department of the Interior announced Thursday that Steven Gardner of Lexington consulting firm ECSI has been tapped for the role. Gardner has more than four decades of experience working with and advocating for the mining industry.

In 2011, he testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources on the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule, which tightened regulations on surface coal mining.

Gardner and others raised questions about the justification used for the regulation, saying the Office of Surface Mining had prompted his company to change key calculations to lessen the perceived effect of the rule on jobs and coal production.

Erica Peterson

It may be nicknamed “The Sunny Side,” but solar installations in Indiana’s Clark and Floyd counties are still few and far between. A group of volunteers is trying to change that, and their push has intensified over the past few months.

At Jeffersonville’s First Presbyterian Church, Tricia Tull points to solar panels on the building’s roof. The church installed 13 kilowatts of solar two years ago, paying about $3 a watt. This year, they added 15 more kilowatts.

Wikimedia Commons

For a lot of people in the region, August 21’s solar eclipse marks a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. But if you own solar panels, it means a day of less-than-ideal energy production.

Bloomberg News estimates 9,000 megawatts of solar production will go down when the sun is obscured by the moon — the equivalent of nine nuclear reactors. A lot of that is in California, which sources about 40 percent of its power from the sun. The eclipse has prompted a campaign asking Californians to reduce their energy usage on August 21, to account for the increased load on the state’s other power sources.

Gabe Bullard

There’s no dearth of research on health disparities in Appalachia. But a newly-formed group of researchers at Virginia Tech says there is a dearth of scientific research into why these disparities exist, and how environmental factors could be contributing.

In a literature review published online last month in the journal “Reviews on Environmental Health,” the Virginia Tech researchers call for more community dialogue on the issue, and more focused epidemiological research on environmental health effects in Appalachia.

Erica Peterson

New numbers from the first two quarters of this year show both coal production and employment are continuing to decline in Kentucky, despite President Donald Trump’s promises that miners would be going back to work.

Overall, Kentucky saw a nearly 10 percent decline in coal production between the first and second quarters of 2017. The industry shed 200 jobs during the same time period.

“Obviously, an almost a 10 percent decrease since last quarter is not what we’d like to see,” said Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White. “But I’ve always said that you don’t turn this industry around in a one or two quarter measurement.”

Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection

Pointing to years of documented pollution from a Central Kentucky coal-fired power plant, environmental groups are suing Kentucky Utilities. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Lexington.

The issue is ongoing coal ash pollution at the E.W. Brown plant, which is near Danville. The power plant also sits directly next to Herrington Lake, which is a popular recreation spot. But for the past six years, regulators have documented contaminated water flowing into the lake. Fish tissue sampling done last year revealed the fish in Herrington Lake have been poisoned with selenium, which is one of the elements present in coal ash.

WFPL News

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says her office will not release state voter data to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Trump, a Republican, formed the commission to investigate alleged voter fraud, which he has repeatedly claimed was widespread despite evidence to the contrary. As The Hill reported today, the commission’s vice chairmen sent a letter today requesting several pieces of information about voters.

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