environment

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.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

High levels of PFAS chemicals have contaminated a plastics recycling company in Henderson, Kentucky, spreading through the air and water and likely contaminating a creek that flows into the Ohio River, state officials say. 

The company, Shamrock Technologies Inc., notified state regulators about the problem after hiring a consultant to screen for the pollution three years ago. 

State records obtained by WFPL News through a records request show the extent of the pollution at the site, where PFAS levels rival those found at EPA Superfund sites on military installations across the country, but get far less attention.  

 

  

Illness Causing Bird Deaths Remains A Mystery

Jul 28, 2021
Ginger Rood via Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

The illness that is killing birds in Kentucky and nationwide still isn’t identified, according to a statement released by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Wednesday.

National wildlife agencies and officials in affected states have ruled out some common bird illnesses like salmonella and chlamydia, avian influenza virus, West Nile virus and other viruses and parasites.

They have also confirmed that the illness is not House Finch eye disease. Though the illness and House Finch eye disease have similar symptoms, the two do not appear to be associated. 

House Finch eye disease occurs naturally in Kentucky during warmer months and cases have been reported this year. However the new illness is affecting primarily juvenile common grackles, blue jays, European starlings and American robins.

Tiki Lucas via Creative Commons

Kentucky utility regulators reached a decision this week that could mean a northern West Virginia power plant will have to close years sooner than planned.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission on Thursday rejected Kentucky Power’s request to perform environmental compliance work on the Mitchell Plant near Moundsville, West Virginia.

Under federal rules, the coal-burning plant requires a new wastewater handling system to continue operating through 2040. Without it, the plant will have to close by the end of 2028.

The project’s total cost is $133.5 million, with Kentucky Power’s portion totaling $67 million. The company owns half the Mitchell Plant along with Wheeling Power. Both are subsidiaries of Ohio-based American Electric Power.

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.

Stephen George

Kentucky is one of several states where the Center for Disease Control is reporting salmonella cases related to chickens and ducks. The center says most of the cases are connected to backyard poultry owners.

According to the CDC, there are 17 reported cases in the state.  The CDC is reporting a total of 474 cases across 46 states as of June 17. The one reported death from the nationwide outbreak is in Indiana.

While the illness has affected people of all ages, the hardest hit group has been children under five. The CDC reports they make up a third of the reported cases.

The CDC is advising backyard poultry owners to keep children away from the birds. Other guidelines include frequent handwashing after contact with the animals and safe egg handling practices.

Ginger Rood via Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources has received hundreds of reports over the last week of a mysterious illness affecting songbirds in Northern and Central Kentucky. 

Wildlife agencies first identified the illness in late May and have since received reports of it spreading in at least six states and Washington D.C. So far experts are stumped as to the cause, and awaiting the results from lab testing. 

“Basically, in our meeting, it was like, ‘What is everybody seeing?’ and we haven’t come up with one definitive answer and so we are exploring all possibilities,” said Dr. Christine Casey, wildlife veterinarian with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.  

Last week Kentucky wildlife officials asked residents in Jefferson, Boone and Kenton counties to take down bird feeders until further notice to help curb the spread. They also opened an online reporting tool that has since received around 700 reports of sick and dying birds, mostly in Central and Northern Kentucky. Officials are now sorting through those reports.

SouthernStar.com

An energy company based in Daviess County broke ground Tuesday on a solar project that will generate enough electricity to offset the facility’s annual power demand.

Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline will install a solar array at its corporate headquarters off State Route 56 in Owensboro.  The solar panels will be located on four acres in a field adjacent to the headquarters buidling. 

The project will make Southern Star’s headquarters, with 200 employees, the first known “net zero carbon-based energy facility of its size” in Owensboro. 

“Southern Star is committed to reducing its carbon footprint in all communities we serve," said President and CEO Jimmy Staton. "We are proud to mark the beginning of this journey in Owensboro.”

Kentucky Updating Water Quality Standards

Jun 20, 2021
Ryan Van Velzer

Kentucky has among the most miles of running water of any state in the country. Once every three years, the public has an opportunity to add their two cents on the state’s water quality standards. 

On Tuesday, the Kentucky Division of Water will hold a listening session where the public can offer comments on what they think state officials should include in the state’s triennial review of water quality standards under the Clean Water Act. 

All Kentucky waters, for example, are under an advisory for mercury. That’s why the department of environmental protection warns that the general population should eat no more than one meal per month of predatory fish like bass.

Mercury is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity and hangs around in the environment long after the coal’s burned up. The element accumulates in fish and can be bad for human health, if people consume too much of it.

Ginger Rood via Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Wildlife agencies in a half-dozen states including Kentucky have received reports of sick and dying birds.

It’s unclear what’s causing the deaths, but the birds appear with symptoms that include eye swelling, crusty discharge and neurological problems. 

Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has received reports of sick and dying birds in Jefferson, Kenton and Boone counties. Affected species so far include blue jays, common grackles and European starlings.

The department is now asking residents in Jefferson, Boone and Kenton counties to stop feeding birds until further notice. Bird feeders and baths are common places for birds to congregate and can increase disease transmission.  

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has already sent more than 20 samples to a lab in Georgia for further testing. The public can file a report and read more about the bird deaths at this website.

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.

Kayrros

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.

  

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.

Kentucky Utility Regulators Set Rooftop Solar Rate

May 18, 2021
Gray Watson/Creative Commons

Kentucky utility regulators have for the first time put a dollar figure to the electricity that rooftop solar customers generate when they put energy back on the grid.

They concluded that it’s worth a lot more than utilities want to pay net-metering customers. 

The Public Service Commission set the net metering rate at a little more than 9 and a half cents per kilowatt hour. That’s less than the one-to-one retail rate Kentucky Power customers received previously, but more than twice the 3 and a half cents per kwh that Kentucky Power wanted to pay to solar generators.

Friday’s order from the Public Service Commission sets rates for rooftop solar customers in the eastern part of the state with Kentucky Power, but it also sets precedent for how utility regulators will determine the value of rooftop solar in the future.

Shalina Chatlani | WPLN News (file)

Tennessee’s electric utility is starting the long process that could eventually lead to closure of its most-polluting coal plant.

Tennessee Valley Authority Jeff Lyash has already announced this month that it plans to end all coal power generation by 2035. And TVA spokesman Scott Brooks says the utility is beginning the preliminary review with the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, which has two separate coal-fired units.

“These are the two largest coal units we have in our fleet,” Brooks says. “So if there’s any logic to it, it would make sense that we would start with our two largest units.”

The Cumberland plant produces enough power for more than 1 million homes. It also releases 8 million tons of carbon emissions into the air each year, as well as especially high mercury releases into the Cumberland River, according to the Sierra Club of Tennessee.

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