Environment Local News

EPA Denies Water Pollution Petition

The federal government has denied a petition that would set pollution limits for states in the Mississippi River Basin. The decision was criticized by environmental groups today.

Pollution released from wastewater treatment plants and farm runoff eventually travel from Kentucky to the Mississippi River and are contributing to a growing ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico. A dead zone is a spot where pollution has sucked out all the oxygen and there’s no aquatic life.

The rejected petition asked the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and set standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which right now is under the control of individual states.

Judy Petersen is the executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

“Not a single state in the Mississippi River Basin, which covers 40 percent of the states in the United States of America, not a single state has comprehensive limits for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution,” she said.

Petersen says the pollution hits close to home.

“It’s not just the dead zone,” she said. “We have problems with lakes and even some rivers right here in Kentucky. Every state in the nation, as far as I know, has problems both within their state as well as what they’re contributing to dead zones.”

The pollution problems also contribute to algae blooms, which can affect aquatic life and drinking water supplies in Kentucky waterways.

Petersen called on the commonwealth to set pollution controls even without the EPA’s leadership.

Local News Next Louisville

Proposed LG&E Coal Ash Dump Discussed

A proposal by Louisville Gas and Electric Company to build a new coal combustion waste dump at its Cane Run facility in west Louisville was the focus of a Metro Council informational hearing Thursday.

LG& E is asking state regulators for permission to build the dump on 60 acres adjacent to its current disposal site, which is running out of room.

The current containtment dam has been classified as “high hazard” by the EPA, but the utility company’s Mike Winkler told the Metro Council’s Energy and Environment Committee that the term can be misleading.

“It has nothing to do with the structural integrity or the likeliness of that dam to fail,” he said. Under those guidelines, the structural integrity of the dam was excellent, it got the highest rating that the EPA could possibly give. So it’s just the hazards associated with a dam failure, not the likelihood of a dam failure.”

Environmental groups and people who live nearby say they’re worried about, among other things, the possibility of heavy metals and other hazardous materials leaking into groundwater and the nearby Ohio River from current and future dumps.

Environment Local News

Evironmental Groups Cheer New EPA Mining Rule

Kentucky Waterways Alliance head Judy Peterson is praising an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that sets new pollution standards for streams near mountaintop coal mining operations.

“We are thrilled.  I think what this really tells us is that this administration came in and really looked at the science.  And they have acted today to protect our streams, but also to protect our communities,” Peterson said.

The agency’s new rule limits the amount of conductivity – or salinity – allowed in streams.  And that could limit the practice of valley fills. Streams affected by valley fills, or the pushing of mining debris into nearby valleys, have been found to have conductivity levels many times higher than normal, which harms aquatic life.  The National Mining Association issued a statement today (Thurs.) criticizing the EPA’s science, however, and accusing it of issuing the rule without allowing public comment.  While the rule takes affect immediately, it is in fact open for public comment now.

Environment Local News

KY Waterways Alliance Critical of New Coal Ash Ponds

A Kentucky environmental group tried to intervene in a case before the state’s utility regulators but was denied.  Kentucky Waterways Alliance spokesman Jason Flickner says the group wanted the Public Service Commission to reconsider allowing LG&E and Kentucky Utilities to pass along to customers the cost of adding and enlarging coal ash storage basins.  Flickner says the coal ash spill in Tennessee a year ago prompted their involvement.

“The reason for us intervening in the case was to provide more information to the Public Service Commission as to what actually caused the failure in Tennessee and to give them more information about wet coal ash and where EPA is going to go in their classification of coal ash as a hazardous material in the future, before they were to make a decision to allow these companies to expand wet coal ash impoundment,” says Flickner.

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced its intentions to re-examine the way it regulates coal ash ponds.  But the agency has delayed announcing the specifics.

Environment Local News

Enviros Sue Over Mining/Stream Buffer Rule

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Environmental Protection Agency in federal court over a recently approved mountaintop removal mining rule change.  The old rule required mining companies to keep debris at least a hundred feet away from valley streams.  But because of different interpretations of the rule, many miles of streams have already been covered with debris.  The EPA calls the rule change a clarification.  And the mining industry says it reconstructs streams.  But Jason Flickner, who is a spokesman for plaintiff Kentucky Waterways Alliance, says he doesn’t believe those claims.

“We don’t believe that they are truly proving that it’s not going to have a cumulative adverse effect.  We believe that when you look at these in isolated incidences, that mining companies can justify that, well, we’re not going to lower water quality, or we’re going to replace the stream, but those streams are never going to come back to the biological integrity that they were before the mining waste was put in them,” says Flickner.

The practice of mountaintop removal and the December 12 rule change have drawn public fire from several Appalachian region governors, including Kentucky’s Steve Beshear.  The law suit comes as no surprise from groups who have been fighting the rule change since it was proposed.  The suit was filed in federal district court in Washington D. C

Local News

Court Finds EPA Wrong to Approve KY Water Laws

A federal appeals court has sided with the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and other groups against the EPA over Kentucky water quality laws. The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to regulate the discharge of pollutants into water bodies. But it also requires states to develop their own laws to maintain water quality. Plaintiffs in the suit alleged that Kentucky’s laws contained too many exemptions to be effective, including one for coal mining discharges. Now, after an expensive legal battle, Kentucky Waterways Alliance head Judy Peterson says the court has ordered the EPA to review Kentucky’s regulations

“We’re hopeful that at this point they’re going to be willing to sit down and work with us as well. Solving these issues through the court system really has to be, you know, the last resort,” says Peterson.

The Kentucky Division of Water did not offer comment on the ruling.