Here and Now

Herman Cain Responds to Allegations, Utility Companies React to EPA’s New Limits on Mercury from Coal: Today on Here and Now

1:06pm: GOP presidential contender Herman Cain plans to hold a news conference in Phoenix later today to “set the record straight” about allegations of sexual harassment. Cain steadfastly denies that he ever harassed anyone. On Monday, Sharon Bialek became the fourth woman to accuse Cain of harassment, saying he made an inappropriate sexual advance toward her in 1997 while the two were in a car. At the time, she was out of work and seeking his help in finding a job. So what constitutes sexual harassment and how are these cases generally handled? We hear from an employment lawyer, who handles cases of sexual harassment.

1:12pm: While Cain denies all allegations of sexual harassment, he has also mentioned his sense of humor when addressing questions about the recent claims. Last week, Cain told the Wall Street Journal, “I do have a sense of humor, and some people have a problem with that.” Cain has also said he does not make inappropriate comments to employees, but when is taking a joke too far? Katrina Campbell of Global Compliance works with companies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. She says that people often get in trouble for making jokes that aren’t appropriate in the workplace. Campbell says while some people accused of sexual harassment are making a power player, others are just oblivious to the impact of their actions.

1:35pm: Half of the airborne mercury pollution in the US comes from coal-fired power plants. After years of study and debate, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to announce new limits on mercury from coal plants in November. Meanwhile, utilities are scrambling to meet other new federal regulations and industry groups are asking the government to slow down. This is the second of a four-part series, Coal at the Crossroads. You can hear it all week on Here and Now.

Environment Local News

Kentucky Joins Effort to Delay Air Pollution Rules

Kentucky and Indiana are among twenty-five states seeking a delay in federal regulations to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution.

The deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution is November 16. But twenty-five states have filed a brief in the case asking a judge to push that back another year.

As it’s proposed, the rule gives utilities three years to comply. Allison Martin in the Kentucky Attorney General’s office says the commonwealth joined the filing because it will need more time to comply.

“When you’re talking about a state like Kentucky, it is unique,” she said. “Many states have diversified energy at this point, and Kentucky does not. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, but it means we need extra time to come into compliance.”

Martin says the rule will result in substantial rate hikes for Kentuckians, and the state is trying to delay that.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities have already filed for rate increases for environmental upgrades that take the new air toxics standards into account. If the increase is approved, LG&E’s rates will rise 19 percent by 2016. A company spokesman said if the regulations are delayed, it’s likely the company will file an adjusted timeline with the Public Service Commission.

The EPA says the rule is necessary to protect the environment and human health. The agency has estimated the proposed rule will create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term jobs in the utility sector.

Environment Local News

ORSANCO Holding Workshops On Pollution Law Change

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, or ORSANCO, is considering a change to pollution control standards. The body will vote later this year on a measure that would let power plants apply for temporary exemptions from pollution controls.

In late 2013, a moratorium will go into effect that blocks power plants from dumping certain pollutants, such as mercury, into the river. ORSANCO deputy director Peter Tennant says plant operators say they don’t yet have the technology to comply with the moratorium and the Clean Air Act.

“The mercury we’re talking about here, for the most part now, is being discharged up the smokestacks and this situation arose because the companies were required to put in scrubbers to improve the situations for their air emissions,” he says.

ORSANCO’s proposed change would allow operators to apply for temporary exemptions from moratorium while they bring their plants into compliance. Tennant says state governments and ORSANCO would have to approve each request.

“They’re showing us evidence the current technology can’t quite get you down to that,” he says. “Now we’re looking for more evidence. There have been a handful pilot studies…The technology is evolving.”

Public workshops on the proposal will be held in Louisville on Wednesday afternoon (4-7 pm at the Galt House) and in Hunnington, West Virginia Thursday.

A public hearing will be held in Erlanger on August 3rd.

Environment In-Depth News Local News

For National Parks, Pollution, Confusion

On the outer edge of the forest, Mammoth Cave National Park’s air quality manager Bob Carson shows off an elaborate monitoring station. In this fenced-off clearing, two humble-looking sheds house super-sensitive pollution detectors. One keeps tabs on how much soot—or particulate matter– is in the air. Carson says the instruments tell him not only how much particulate matter is in the air but what’s in that matter.

“Today is a sampling day. We measure particulate matter in the air one in three days. So every three days we get a 24-hour sample,” says CarsonA look inside a device that captures particulate matter from a jar outside.

Mammoth Cave has some of the worst air quality, and worst visibility, of any national park in the country. Some forty coal-fired power plants operate within 200 miles of the park. These plants not only put out soot, but greenhouse gases and the neurotoxin, mercury. Carson says it’s the soot that makes skies so hazy over the park, especially in summer. A camera snaps shots over the park every day. And he can see just how the haze blurs tree-lined ridges, washes out colors. In the other shed, he explains how we know this soot creates the haze problem: these particles scatter light.

“We use this device to measure the particles that are scattering light. And we use that number to calculate our visual range, give us a mechanical visual range number in miles of what you can expect to see,” Carson says.

Carson says visibility hasn’t gotten any worse or any better over the past several years. But one attempt to improve it—for all national parks–came from the 1999 “haze rule.” Bruce Polkowsky is with the National Park Service’s air resources division. He helped write the rule.

Towers collecting visibility, other pollutant information.“What the act actually says is the states must do what is reasonable to improve visibility. It established a long-term goal to return these designated areas to ‘natural’ conditions,” Polkowsky says.

Polkowski says the haze rule instructed states to make sure older power plants installed the best available technology to control emissions. And every ten years states have to assess their progress and file a plan to maintain it with the EPA. The first round plans are due now. But Polkowski says there’s a hold up—another rule that throws the haze rule into question. It’s the Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR. The idea behind CAIR was to tackle pollution as a regional problem. If states joined the program, they had to reduce overall emissions from utilities, not individual plants. Again, Bruce Polkowsky.

“What the Clean Air Interstate Rule said is we’re doing such a massive reduction across the whole utility sector, that we’re just going to go ahead and say if your state implements the Clean Air Interstate Rule, and you do everything under that rule correctly, you, state, do not have to address best available retrofit technology for your utility sector,” Polkowsky says.

In other words, the Clean Air Interstate Rule trumped the haze rule. If you join CAIR, you don’t have to retrofit old plants. That is, until a judge threw CAIR out.Particulate matter filters.

“Most of the southeastern states have already adopted their regulations assuming that because they joined CAIR, their utilities were fine. They didn’t have to go back and look at who was built when and what their control technologies are. They just said, we’re part of CAIR, we’re done. Now, that’s all in question,” says Polkowsky.

With the Clean Air Interstate Rule up in the air, states—and parks—are in a holding pattern with air quality plans. No one knows whether CAIR could be reinstated. With all the uncertainty, many states are lagging behind on turning in their haze plans. And the National Parks Conservation Association has sued the EPA over the stragglers. Spokesman Mark Wenzler says they want to make sure states move forward, regardless of the regulatory limbo. He says Kentucky’s plan has been submitted. Now it needs to be implemented.

More instruments at Mammoth Cave to measure mercury and other pollutants in the air.“There’s a huge impact in Mammoth Cave. It’s one of the most polluted parks in the country. And so what we’re really looking to do is speed up the process of starting to clean up the worst offenders around Mammoth Cave to restore clean air to the park,” Wenzler says.

But even the haze rule Wenzler hopes states will take action on could be called into question. The Washington Post just reported that the EPA is close to changing it. Some fear the change could weaken protections for air quality in parks that are already suffering.