LG&E and KU plan to burn coal for another four decades

Jan 11, 2022
Erica Peterson

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities is planning for a net zero carbon future. It’s also planning to burn coal through 2066. 

The planet is running out of time to eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels, and the coal that keeps the lights on in Kentucky is one of the state’s biggest contributors to global warming. Earth has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius since humankind started carbon-loading the atmosphere at the start of the industrial revolution. 

Warming temperatures in Kentucky will bring more extreme weather events. More floods, more droughts, more heat waves, more urban heat and less predictability for farmers and ranchers.

Katie Myers

Carol Davis has noticed the West drying up. Where she lives, in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, years of drought have left former oases dusty and dry.  Though the drought has some roots in wider climate issues, Carol says much of the groundwater in her area has dried up because  nearby coal mines and power plants were using immense quantities of water for many years.

“We were selling our water to Navajo Generating Station and the Mojave Generating Station,” she said. “They were paying nothing to use our water. Meanwhile our water table is depleted, our seeps and springs are drying out.”

Across the continent — in Letcher County, Kentucky — Elaine Tanner also has complaints about how the coal industry has affected her community’s watershed. Though the Appalachian highlands and Ohio Valley are water-rich, mining has disrupted mountain hydrology, increasing flood risk, which has only been compounded by the climate-change trends of more intense rainstorms.

Sydney Boles

In 1983, two southwest Virginia coal miners told an Appalshop filmmaker they were worried about a slate of budget cuts to social services by then-president Ronald Reagan. The reason?  They had developed black lung – a severe, progressive lung disease that comes from inhaling dust while working in coal mines.

In the film, the two miners are sitting on a couch in a dimly lit room, their brows furrowed.  The younger man with curly hair gestures angrily at the camera. “Every coal miner who has black lung benefits deserves it,” he says. “And not only that, it’s Reagan’s responsibility. He’s the head of the federal government, he’s their boss.”

Jess Wright

A Kentucky court has found coal companies owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in default of a 2019 mine reclamation agreement.

A judge in Frankfort on Tuesday ordered Justice to pay a nearly $3 million penalty, plus interest, over mine reclamation work at three sites in eastern Kentucky that was not

completed before deadline.

The judge revoked five of Justice’s permits, including some at mines he’d planned to reopen.

Justice also must pay attorneys fees to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Attorneys for Justice had argued that the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to meet the deadlines for completing the reclamation work.

Katie Myers

Bennett Quillen walks through a late August downpour check on his fall crop, and sees that his greasy beans are coming ripe. He learned how to farm from his father, and he’s determined to model environmental stewardship for his community.

“I believe in taking care of the land,” Quillen says. “I want to leave the land better than I found it.”

Quillen’s story is pretty common in  this part of Eastern Kentucky.  His grandfather was a coal miner, his father was a coal miner, and he was too.  Now, Quillen is retired.  He lives with his wife in a house in Deane, Kentucky that his years underground paid for.

He grows vegetable and fruit crops on his acres of land. But hidden beneath his pastoral life are constant reminders of the legacy costs of the coal industry — both in his lungs and in the land around him.

Kate Howard

Environmental and consumer groups have pushed for the early closure of a 50-year-old coal-fired power plant in West Virginia that serves electricity customers in both West Virginia and Kentucky.

They have an unlikely ally: Kentucky’s Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron.

In a filing last week with the Kentucky Public Service Commission, Cameron recommended the commission reject Kentucky Power’s request for $67 million in upgrades for the Mitchell Plant in Marshall County, West Virginia, paid for by its customers with a surcharge on their monthly bills.

Instead, Cameron said Kentucky Power, which owns a 50% share of the plant with Wheeling Power, should let it close in 2028. Both are subsidiaries of Ohio-based American Electric Power.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider a lower court ruling that allows a federal agency to set emission standards.

Cameron filed a brief Friday asking the court to review a D.C. Circuit ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency concerning the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. 

The EPA under the Obama administration sought to curb coal emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The D.C. court ruling allowed the EPA to continue issuing those standards for the nation’s power grid. 

In the brief, Cameron argues that Congress should instead be in charge of policy decisions that could impact the nation’s power plants.


Appalachian coal mines emit more than a million tons of methane a year, and overall the region is the largest U.S. source of the potent greenhouse gas, according to new research.

The region was the source of 3 million tons of methane in 2019, 1.1 million tons of it from coal mining, according to European satellite data analyzed by Kayrros, a company focused on climate risk

In 2020, the region’s methane emissions declined to 2.4 million tons as the coronavirus pandemic lowered energy demand, but coal’s share of total emissions held to 1 million tons.


Jeff Young

Kentucky coal production and employment fell by the smallest amount in nearly two years, according to new data.

The state’s coal mines produced 6.5 million tons in the first three months of 2021, according to the Energy and Environment Cabinet, a decline of 9.6% from 2020.Total employment fell by 14.6% to 3,983 workers.

Western Kentucky continued to outpace Eastern Kentucky in production, with 4.3 million tons mined in the west and 2.3 million tons mined in the east.

One western Kentucky county, Union, produced more coal than the entire eastern coalfield.

Total employment remained higher in the east, with 2,366 workers. Western Kentucky mines employed 1,617 workers.

Updated May 18, 2021 at 1:07 PM ET

Enough rhetoric, it's time to act: that's the gist of a new report from the International Energy Agency, which says the world must bring about "a total transformation" of its energy systems if it hopes to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and minimize the worst effects of climate change.

Courtesy of the office of Sen. Manchin

On Earth Day, President Joe Biden convened world leaders for a climate summit, where he laid out an ambitious goal for U.S. policy on climate change.

“The United States sets out to cut our global warming emissions in half by the end of the decade,” Biden said. “That’s where we’re heading as a nation.”

But Biden has 50 votes in an evenly divided Senate, and unless he can persuade a Republican to cross the aisle, he can’t get anything done without West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

As Biden attempts to cut carbon emissions and clean up the electric power sector, Manchin can shape energy legislation to help Appalachian coal communities that have lost jobs.


On Thursday — Earth Day — President Joe Biden announced an ambitious goal to fight the climate crisis: The country will cut by half its global warming emissions by 2030. Such action will require a massive reduction in the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, long a bedrock of the economy for Ohio Valley and Appalachian communities, and some regional politicians have already voiced opposition to the president’s plan.

But Biden’s Energy Secretary, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said in an interview with the Ohio Valley ReSource that the region could gain jobs as a result of action against climate change.

“I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna, I understand this issue of transitioning is hard,” she said, “but I want to give people hope that this administration is really interested in helping to lure businesses, and diversify existing businesses that are there to be able to take advantage of what is going to be a massive market opportunity if we do this right.”

Jeff Young

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said he’s been hearing the term “just transition” tossed around for more than 20 years as part of the long-running, nearly Sisyphean discussion about climate change, clean energy, and coal country. 

Simply put: he’s not a fan.

“I ask anybody who has been uttering those two words over the last 30 years — point to one, one ‘just transition’ in this country,” Roberts challenged. “And you can’t.” 

The West Virginia native is the UMWA’s second-longest serving leader, behind only the legendary John L. Lewis. But unlike Lewis, who served during the coal industry and union’s height of power and influence, Roberts’ tenure coincides with an epic decline in coal production and employment in the U.S., and now, what could be the closing chapter for coal.

Brittany Patterson

In Central Appalachia an estimated 538,000 unplugged oil and gas wells and 853,393 acres of abandoned mine lands sit unreclaimed, often polluting the air and water, and presenting public safety threats.

But according to two new reports from the regional think tank Ohio River Valley Institute,  these sites that now pose serious health risks to residents could be providing thousands of jobs for the region. The group’s findings indicate that, should the federal government take the risk seriously and invest in mitigation, not only would environmental risk be reduced, but thousands of well-paying jobs could potentially be created.

Katie Myers

Elaine Tanner lives with her life partner, Jimmy Hall, at the head of Mill Creek in Letcher County, Kentucky. Jimmy is a sixth-generation Letcher Countian, and the land is his family land. Together, they like to roll around on their property on their ATV. But lately, Tanner’s spent more time searching for signs of damage than having fun. That’s what she was doing on Thursday morning — investigating her mountain. 

“A few days ago,” she said, “the rains came and the mountain busted open.”

After the March 28 rainstorm, Tanner was dismayed to find the hillside looking even less stable than usual. Boulders had shifted downslope. Trees were leaning, she said, almost like they were drunk. Even though the head of the hollow is too high to flood, Tanner, like many who live on higher ground, found herself facing another problem: landslides.