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Environment Local News

Lawsuit Alleges Damages From “Whiskey Fungus”

A lawsuit filed today in federal court alleges a black substance coating the homes of residents in some areas of Louisville is caused by whiskey distilling.

Attorney Bill McMurray says for years, residents have seen a black substance growing on metal surfaces, and it’s nearly impossible to remove.

“And it’s only recently been understood within the last couple of years what the actual cause for that blackening is, and it’s this particular fungus,” he said.

The so-called “whiskey fungus”—or Baudoinia compniacensis—coats metal surfaces. It’s caused by ethanol—which is released during distilling—mixing with moisture.

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Environment Local News

AEP to Reconsider Alternatives to Coal at Eastern Kentucky Plant

Big Sandy PowerplantAmerican Electric Power may have changed its mind about the future of the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Eastern Kentucky. The company has an application pending with the Kentucky Public Service Commission to install pollution controls at the plant to continue burning coal. But WFPL has learned that AEP filed to withdraw the application today.

Now, instead of moving ahead with the retrofit of the Big Sandy plant, the company plans to re-evaluate alternatives to comply with upcoming air pollution standards.

Spokesman Ronn Robinson said the company made the decision to reconsider alternatives to coal because outlooks suggest more energy capacity in the market in the next few years. “We will look at everything again,” he said. “We will look at the continued use of coal, the scrubber may stay an option, we will look at gas, we will do a total review, in light of the new energy landscape to make the decision that’s in the best interest of our customers and ratepayers.”

Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk represented environmental groups that intervened in the case, arguing that it would be more cost-effective to replace the plant’s capacity with a mix of other natural gas, renewable energy and efficiency measures.

Fisk called AEP’s application withdrawal a victory for both the environment and ratepayers, and said it’s a move that he hopes will be noticed around the country.

“It’s clearly not economic to retrofit this coal plant in the heart of coal country,” he said. “And that really sends a message for coal plants throughout the country, if it’s not even economic to do it in Kentucky, it’s certainly not economic to be spending hundreds of millions, even a billion dollars on aging coal infrastructure like Ohio and Michigan and Tennessee.”

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Environment Local News

MSHA Releases Report Into Death of Two Killed in 2011 Ohio County Mine Accident

Last year, 21 coal miners died in mining accidents, and eight of them were in Kentucky. I’ve reported on many of these deaths on our website and on the air, but most only after the fact. Two of these mine deaths—the deaths of 47-year-old Darrel Alan Winstead and Samual Joe Lindsey, 23—in a roof fall at an Ohio County mine were reported nearly real-time, as rescuers worked to uncover the men. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its report into the deaths today.

Winstead and Lindsey were blasters employed by the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company, or Memsco. They were working at the Equality Mine, a surface mine owned by Armstrong Coal Company. It was their job to place explosives and detonate them to uncover coal seams, but early in the morning of October 28, 2011, a wall in the mine collapsed and buried the two men in their truck.

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Environment Local News

Influx of Insects Could Cause Problems for Tulip Poplars This Summer

An old pest is causing new problems in the Ohio River Valley. The tulip scale insect has always preyed on tulip poplar trees, but the past two years of mild winters mean there’s a much higher population than usual.

The tulip scale insect attaches to twigs on tulip poplar trees, sucks sap out of the bark and releases a clear, sticky sugary substance that’s commonly called “honeydew.” The honeydew is annoying—it falls onto lawns and cars—but the real danger is to the trees.

Phil Marshall is the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology. He says the scale insects are native to the region, and they’ve co-existed with tulip poplars in the past. But the past two years of mild winters mean the insects are out of control.

“Those cold temperatures can help to kill off the population and bring it back down to the normal background level where we always have a few around, they just don’t do that much damage to the tree at all,” he said.

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Environment Local News

Kentucky State Parks Begins Energy Retrofit of Nine Western Kentucky Parks

Kentucky’s state parks system is two months into a major energy savings project at nine of its parks. The project is part of Governor Steve Beshear’s Initiative for Smart Government, which is designed to reduce government waste.

Kentucky  State Parks began its energy savings initiative by focusing on energy consumption in nine of the resort parks in Western Kentucky. Commissioner Elaine Walker says the improvements run the gamut, from replacing inefficient light bulbs to installing low-flow toilets and showers to using solar panel to heat swimming pools.

“So it’s a broad scope of a project, but we’re very excited about it because not only will it reduce our energy footprint, but ultimately it will save the parks and the taxpayers money,” she said.

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Byline Environment

Private Homes Contaminated Near Black Leaf Site; What’s Next?

Soil testing in the yards of fifty homes bordering the former Black Leaf Chemical site in Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood recently revealed carcinogenic chemicals in all of them. The Environmental Protection Agency found toxic contamination at the 29-acre Black Leaf site itself in 2010, but scientists weren’t sure how far it had spread beyond site boundaries. Now, testing has revealed levels of heavy metals, pesticides and other toxic substances in some 50 private yards near the site.

Friday on Byline, WFPL’s environment reporter Erica Peterson sat down with Metro Councilman David James to discuss the findings and what approaches the EPA may take to address the problem.

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Environment Local News

LG&E Plans Wall to Maximize Capacity of Ash Landfill at Cane Run

Louisville Gas and Electric has begun building a wall near its coal ash landfill at Cane Run.

The wall will be made substantially out of the same material the landfill is: a mixture of flue gas desulfurization sludge and coal ash that’s concrete-like. Right now the company’s landfill resembles gently-sloping mountains. But after the wall is built, it will allow the company to fill in the ash at a near-vertical slope, and fit more ash in the landfill.

The wall won’t expand the landfill either horizontally or vertically, and permits don’t specify a certain volume for the landfill. In an email, Solid Waste Branch Manager Ron Gruzesky said: “After an examination of the governing regulation, the DWM determined that this interior wall did not qualify as a permit modification. Therefore there is nothing to approve, and no public notice requirement.”

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Environment Local News

MSHA Targets 43 Former Massey Mines in Huge Inspection Blitz

The Mine Safety and Health Administration targeted 43 mines formerly owned by Massey Energy for surprise inspections this week, as NPR’s Howard Berkes reports. The mines, in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, are all now owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

Berkes reports that the inspection blitz was prompted by a recent incident at an Alpha mine in Wyoming County, WV.

A source familiar with the inspections says they were focused on conveyor belts used to transport coal underground. The source is not authorized to discuss the inspections publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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Environment Local News

EPA Will Hold Community Meeting With Black Leaf Neighbors

The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to hold a community meeting after soil testing revealed contamination near 50 homes in Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood.

The Environmental Protection Agency found signs of contamination—like heavy metals and pesticides—in every yard it tested near the former Black Leaf Chemical site in Park Hill. After letters were sent to homeowners, community activists complained that many questions were left unanswered.

The EPA has agreed to hold a community meeting with affected residents in the next 30 days, after encouragement from District 6 Councilman David James. The agency still hasn’t said what it intends to do about the contamination, which is high enough in nine of the properties that the soil may have to be removed and replaced.

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Environment Local News

EPA Hears Testimony on New Carbon Pollution Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the midst of day-long hearings in Washington, D.C. and Chicago on proposed new standards from carbon pollution from power plants.

The speaking lists for both hearings were already near full before they began. The slots were first come, first served, and environmental groups snagged many of them. Representatives from the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as local environmental groups are scheduled to speak at both events. But the industries are represented too, with speakers from the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Mining Association and various trade groups.

The EPA’s proposed rule would only apply to new power plants, and would limit these plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon pollution per megawatt hour.

Under the rule, coal-fired power plants can still be built. But because of the new limits on carbon dioxide, any company interested in building a coal-fired power plant would be required to install advanced carbon control technologies, like carbon capture and sequestration.