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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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Environment Local News

Judge Ruling in EPA Lawsuit May Have Few Practical Implications

A judge has ruled with the coal industry in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a victory for the industry, but the decision could have little practical meaning for Kentucky’s coal mines.

The judge ruled the EPA overstepped its authority when it instituted an “Enhanced Coordination Procedure” in 2009 to evaluate permits for coal mines. According to the Clean Water Act, the authority for evaluating permits for valley fills—which are used in mountaintop removal mining—lies with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The decision was lauded by the coal industry and coalfields politicians. But Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resource Council says it could backfire, because the EPA still has final veto power over the permits.

“And the challenge to this Enhanced Coordination Process may result in EPA not having the ability to negotiate with mine operators to reduce their impacts and may in fact result in EPA vetoing more of these applications outright,” he said.

Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection Commissioner Bruce Scott agrees.

“We may actually see more vetoes than we did under the [Enhanced Coordination Process], which could be an irony of sorts, as a result of this ruling,” Scott said.

Kentucky wasn’t directly involved in the lawsuit brought by the National Mining Association against the EPA. When politicians talk about ‘suing the EPA,’ they’re referring to a second lawsuit that’s expected to be decided next spring.

Bruce Scott says part of that is about a new EPA policy that requires a numeric standard for water conductivity. But he says there are also issues with a final guidance document the agency released recently, and some Kentucky permits that the EPA objected to.

“We proposed permits consistent with what we believe the final guidance was but the EPA nonetheless objected, so we’re going to be in discussions with USEPA about that and why they’ve taken that position in light of the fact that the new guidance accommodates some of these alternative approaches.”

The second lawsuit objects to the process the EPA took with the guidance, arguing it should have gone through a public notice and comment period.

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Environment Local News

Hearing on Zeon Class Action Settlement Begins

Dozens of residents of Louisville’s Rubbertown neighborhood were at the federal courthouse today for a fairness hearing in a class action lawsuit against Zeon Chemicals.

The settlement agreement offers up to $750 for those who live within a mile of the chemical plant, and up to $100 for those within one to two miles. Nine area elementary schools will get nearly $600,000 more. But the settlement also takes away certain rights of claimants to sue Zeon for future damages.

Attorneys for the several residents named in the lawsuit and Zeon’s lawyers have already agreed on the settlement. But Kentucky Resources Council attorney Tom FitzGerald was arguing against it. His client, community activist Eboni Cochran, says the settlement offers too little compensation and does nothing to reduce the risks the neighborhood faces from Zeon’s emissions.

“My priority for the settlement would have been lower emissions, it would have been community access to real-time monitoring,” she said.

Even Jonathan Tinsley, who’s named in the lawsuit, was lukewarm about the terms of the settlement.

“I don’t totally agree with the lawsuit, yet in the wording of it I’m compelled to the lawsuit,” he said.

Judge John Heyburn now has to decide whether to accept the settlement. He’s not allowed to make any changes to the agreement, but can require both sides to amend it as a condition of his approval.

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Environment Local News Politics

Senate Committee Approves Anti-EPA Bill

A joint resolution declaring Kentucky a sanctuary state, not subject to the regulatory actions of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, has cleared a Senate committee.

Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council spoke against the resolution, which mostly is a symbolic protest against stepped up EPA enforcement of federal Clean Water standards regulating coal mining.

“I understand your frustration,” he says to the bills supporters. “My concern is just that the remedy here is really to look at changing mine design in order to address the strata that have the sulfates and carbonates, rather than provoking what I think is a federal assumption of the water program.”

The resolution, sponsored by Senator Brandon Smith of Hazard, unanimously cleared the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote.

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Environment Local News

Bluegrass 'Bioneers' Beams National, Local Experts

The annual environmental conference Bioneers kicks off this weekend, and the University of Louisville will be hosting its events via satellite.  Speakers include the prominent food journalist Michael Pollan, as well as holistic health advocate Dr. Andrew Weil.  Bioneers founder Kenny Ausubel says that, while Bioneers is typically a meeting about ideas to change the world, some tangible outcomes have emerged.  In 2008, Ecuador revised its national constitution to give nature its own rights.

“And that work is work that we’ve been exposing and highlighting since the mid-1990s, and it was through a daisy-chain of connections that we actually made that led to these folks that have been featured at Bioneers many times going to Ecuador and consulting on their constitution,” says Ausubel.

U of L will also host local presentations for its Bluegrass Bioneers event.  Presenters include Heinz Award winner and environmental lawyer Tom Fitzgerald as well as local musician Ben Sollee.

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Local News

Kentucky Environment Lawyer Wins Heinz Award

The Kentucky Resource Council’s Tom Fitzgerald has been given the Heinz award for his environmental work.  The Heinz Family Foundation selects environmental leaders once a year to receive a no-strings-attached award of $250,000.  This year, it’s environmental lawyer Tom Fitzgerald’s turn.  The Foundation singled Fitzgerald out for his decades of pro bono work fighting abuses of surface mining laws, air and water pollution cases, and more.  Awards director Kim O’Dell says Fitzgerald stood out because of his reputation.

“Because he’s so highly respected by everyone in his industry, and in his state, even adversaries and people who are on the other side of the issues that he represents,” O’Dell says.

Previous recipients of the award include NASA climate change scientist James Hansen.