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Environment Local News

Louisville Coal Ash Pond Reclassified as ‘High Hazard’

A view of the coal ash pond at LG&E's Cane Run Power Station from the top of the plant.The federal government has reclassified eleven coal ash ponds around the country as “high hazard.” A coal ash pond at Louisville Gas and Electric’s Mill Creek Power Station is one that changed classification.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates a coal ash pond—used on site to store coal combustion byproducts—as ‘high hazard’ if it’s in an area where a breach could potentially result in loss of life.

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Local News

Attica Scott to Represent District One, House Says EPA Can’t Regulate Coal Ash, Kentucky Coal Mine Flagged As Unsafe: Afternoon Review

  • The Louisville Metro Council elected Attica Woodson Scott to fill the District 1 seat by a 18-to-7 vote Thursday.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash—a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. The bill gives control of coal ash disposal to the states, which are required to regulate it as least as stringently as municipal waste.
  • A Kentucky coal mine has been flagged as unsafe by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Letcher County mine is the fourth recently placed on a ‘potential pattern of violations’ status.
  • The office of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has issued an apology to anyone who took offense to a joke he made about a Chinese diplomat.
  • Occupy Louisville demonstrators say a permit has been acquired for Jefferson Square Park at 6th and Jefferson streets downtown. They say they can now stay overnight across the street from City Hall until the end of the year.
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Environment Local News

House Passes Bill to Let States Regulate Coal Ash

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash—a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. The bill gives control of coal ash disposal to the states, which are required to regulate it as least as stringently as municipal waste.

Environmental groups opposed the bill, arguing the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate coal ash. The EPA has proposed two rules to control the substance, but if the House bill becomes law, it will be prohibited from instituting either rule.

The bill passed 267 to 144. Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth voted against the bill, while Democrat Ben Chandler and Republicans Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Geoff Davis supported it.

The bill’s chances in the Senate are unknown. Many Republicans are expected to vote in favor of it, but some coalfields Democrats have also expressed support.

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Environment Local News

House Expected to Vote on Coal Ash Bill Tomorrow

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill tomorrow that will block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash. The bill has support among House Republicans, but environmental groups are lobbying against it.

The bill is sponsored by West Virginia Representative David McKinley. It would let individual states regulate the disposal of coal ash, which is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. Under the bill, the states would have to regulate the ash at least as stringently as they regulate municipal waste.

The EPA has unveiled two proposals for regulating coal ash. Scott Slesinger is the Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says if the bill becomes law, it will block both of those proposals.

“What it does originally is stop the EPA regulatory process in its tracks and replaces a scientifically-driven rule with the congressional environmental standard that is acceptable to the utilities,” he said.

But Slesinger says that’s not so different from what’s going on now.

“So it essentially is very close to the current situation where it’s a straight state-run program and there’s great pressure from the utilities in many states not to regulate them,” he said. “So we’re very concerned.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. A spokesman for Congressman John Yarmuth says if the bill comes to the floor in its current state, Yarmuth will oppose it.

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Local News

Coal Ash News Special [Audio]

On Thursday we spent an hour looking at Coal Ash — what it is, whether it’s dangerous, and how it’s regulated.

We spoke with John Voyles, Vice President of Transmission and Generation Services for LG&E; Tom Fitzgerald Founder and Director of the the Kentucky Resources Council; Tom Robl, Associate Director of Environmental and Coal Technologies at University of Kentucky; and Scott Slesinger, Legislative Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The show will be rebroadcast Thursday night at 9pm, or you can listen to it below.

Audio MP3
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Local News

News Special: Coal Ash

More than 90% of Kentucky’s electricity comes from burning coal, and coal ash is a byproduct. It’s the second-largest industrial waste stream in the nation — and as more pollution controls are put on power plants, the amount of caol ash is growing. Most of it ends up in landfills, but about 40% of the ash is recycled and used to make things like cement, and structural fill.

Residents living near power plants, like the Cane Run Power Station in Louisville, complain about air and water contamination, and say the industry should be better regulated. Utility companies, on the other hand, argue that they can safely store coal ash.

Today at 1pm, we’ll talk with coal ash experts — utility company representatives, academics, and environmentalists — and take your questions and thoughts about coal ash. Join us at 502-814-TALK (8255).

Need a refresher? You can listen back to our series on coal ash here:

Audio MP3
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Environment In-Depth News Local News

LG&E, Kentucky Utilities To Replace Three Coal Plants With Natural Gas

One of Louisville’s two coal-fired power plants will be taken offline in the next five years. By 2016, Cane Run Power Station will be replaced by natural gas—a fuel that’s cleaner than conventional coal.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities will retire the Cane Run plant in southwest Louisville, as well as two other coal-fired plants in Kentucky. The company plans to build one natural gas-fired plant on the Cane Run site and purchase an existing gas plant in Oldham County.

“This was based on the new EPA regulations,” LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan said. “We looked at what we were going to have to do to be in compliance with those new regulations.”

The company decided it would be cheaper to replace the coal plants with natural gas than to install advanced pollution controls on the aging units. Whelan says if the deal is approved by the Public Service Commission, it won’t affect the rate increase that’s pending or future LG&E rates.

“Based on the allocation of energy, the new plant is not expected to increase LG&E’s rates,” she said. “This particular filing is just for the application to get approval to actually build something, but even then we’ve estimated that LG&E will not see an increase.”

But KU customers could see a four percent increase in their rates.

The switch to natural gas could be a harbinger of things to come for the state’s coal industry. Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association says the new pollution rules should be coming from Congress, and not the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is an economic issue that goes way beyond just the ratepayers within the footprint of this power plant but could affect the commonwealth’s economy,” he said. “As we see this movement from D.C. to move us away from coal, the question I think both the PSC as well as Congressional leaders outside of Louisville need to ask themselves, what is this going to do to the economy of Kentucky overall, not just our kilowatt per hour?”

LG&E used primarily Kentucky coal in the Cane Run plant, according to Whelan. The natural gas to run the new units will come from Texas Gas Transmission, whose pipelines start in the Gulf. Some employees might lose their jobs during the transition, too.

But for those who live in the shadow of the Cane Run plant, the news was well-received.

“I think I’m optimistic,” said Kathy Little. Little lives next door to the Cane Run plant and has raised concerns about the plant’s storage of coal ash. At Cane Run, the ash is stored in a pond and open landfill, and Little has documented ash blowing off the property and into their neighborhood.

“The news that there won’t be any more particulates after awhile, obviously is good news,” she said.

The Louisville Air Pollution Control District has issued one notice of violation for the Cane Run Plant, and is investigating other issues. The coal ash landfill and pond at Cane Run will stay on the site—once they’re no longer in use, they’ll be capped. Little says she looks forward to cleaner air when she’s living next to a natural gas-fired power plant, but there are still lingering concerns of water contamination from the coal waste.

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Environment Local News

LG&E to Replace Coal-Fired Cane Run Plant With Natural Gas

Louisville Gas & Electric announced today that its coal-fired power plant in southwest Louisville will be taken offline by 2016. The company will build a new natural gas-fired plant on the same property.

This is an option LG&E has been weighing publicly since April. In an interview earlier this summer, Vice President John Voyles said the final decision would come down to whether it was cheaper to retrofit Cane Run with newer pollution controls to meet upcoming federal standards or replace the plant altogether.

“So we’ve evaluated what it takes to meet the new rules and we have a cost,” he said. “We’ve also looked at what it would cost to replace that with a different source, maybe close that unit. And our early analysis says the cost of putting controls on at this facility are higher than the cost of another option.”

Lately Cane Run has been under scrutiny as neighbors complain about air pollution stemming from the coal ash stored on the site.

The move still has to be approved by the Public Service Commission, which will need to ensure that the company can generate enough power to meet consumer demand with the new plant.

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Environment Local News

Report Ranks Kentucky Among Worst in Nation for Coal Ash Handling

A new study faults Kentucky regulators for their lax oversight of coal ash.

There are more than nine million tons of coal ash generated in Kentucky every year. The ash, left over after coal is burned, is stored in ash ponds and dry landfills. The report says the combination of lots of ash and little regulation earns Kentucky the rank of the fifth worst in the United States.

Lisa Evans of Earthjustice, who co-authored the report, says the lack of regular reporting requirement, emergency action planning and groundwater monitoring helped secure Kentucky’s spot on the list. But while dry coal ash landfills have been getting more publicity in Louisville lately, she says the state’s number of wet impoundments is more of a threat.

“There, when you have a wet pond, you have the danger of a cataclysmic spill as you had in Kingston,” she said. “And you also have the waste suspended in water, which releases all its toxic contaminants, which can then go into underlying drinking water or into surface water.”

Bruce Scott, the commissioner of Kentucky’s Department for Environmental Protection says the commonwealth could tighten its regulations on its own, but he would rather wait.

“The best way to deal with that is to have a national minimum set of standards,” he said. “Yes, each state could go about it in its own way, including Kentucky. The best way to deal with that, though, in order to have an equitable manner in which to address the issue, is to have that national standard.”

Scott supports a bill currently before Congress that would allow states to set up their own coal ash disposal programs with minimal federal oversight. Another option, favored by environmental groups, is to let the Environmental Protection Agency adopt its own coal ash rules and regulate the material as a hazardous waste.

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Environment Local News

UPDATED: More Coal Ash Problems at Cane Run

Even though problematic machinery was briefly taken offline, there are still problems with coal ash at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run power plant. Residents are reporting seeing coal ash coming out of the plant and into the air both yesterday and today.

LG&E took the sludge processing plant out of commission after it malfunctioned, releasing clouds of coal ash. They started it up again last night, and LG&E spokesman Chip Keeling said it was operating correctly.

“The unit’s repaired now, and everything’s functioning just like it should,” he said. “Just normal.”

But residents documented clouds of ash rising above the plant. Keeling says a puff of dust when the machine started back up is normal.

“The puff lasted about 10 seconds,” Keeling said.

Greg Walker lives 50 yards away from the power plant’s landfill. He says the release lasted at least four hours—maybe longer, but it got dark. And this afternoon, more dust was spewing out of the same faulty sludge processing plant. Walker watched it, along with an official from the Air Pollution Control District.

“4:40 in the afternoon I’m looking at coal ash, dust blowing out of the sludge plant right in front of me,” Walker said. “APCD is sitting here watching it, LG&E employees have seen us and they keep on running it.”

As a short-term fix, Keeling said the sludge plant’s doors and windows were covered to help contain the dust. In the long term, he says the company is planning to encase the sludge processing plant in a structure to minimize the ash that gets out.

UPDATE: As of 7:15p.m., LG&E officials have temporarily shut the sludge processing plant down.