Rally, March Planned In Louisville For National Climate Day of Action Monday, Oct 12 2015 

Louisville climate activists will rally on Wednesday as part of a larger national climate day of action.

The national group People’s Climate Movement has designated Wednesday as a day of action, and the Louisville march and rally will tie with it.

Mark Steiner of the Louisville non-profit Cultivating Connections said climate change issue should concern every person, even if the topic is complex.

“Our future clearly is dependent on our ability to deal with these climate issues,” Steiner, one of the organizers of the Louisville march and rally.

Steiner said this year is particularly important because world powers will gather in Paris in December to discuss international climate change action. He said he hopes Wednesday’s event will “call attention to this particular moment in history when our awareness and the work towards climate seem to be reaching a certain peak, if you will.”

The march will begin on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. at Sixth Street and Broadway and will end with a rally at 5:30 p.m. at Metro Hall. A similar event will also be held in Frankfort.

Candidates For Governor Run The Gamut On Clean Air Rules Monday, Oct 12 2015 

Kentucky’s gubernatorial candidates run the gamut in how they say they would handle upcoming federal climate regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan in August. The plan sets the nation’s first carbon dioxide regulations on existing power plants and will require large cuts to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The rules encourage states to create their own individual plans for meeting carbon reduction goals. States that don’t submit plans would have to comply with regulations set by the federal government. The current deadline is next September, so how Kentucky moves forward will be in the hands of the next governor.

WFPL has held lengthy interviews with all three candidates — Republican Matt Bevin, Democrat Jack Conway and independent Drew Curtis. Each has been asked whether he would submit a state plan to the EPA, and each answered differently.

Bevin and Curtis were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Bevin said if he were governor, the state would ignore the Clean Power Plan, as well as any potentially stricter plan the EPA might attempt to impose on the state.

“The EPA has no binding authority over the states. None whatsoever,” Bevin said. “There is no legal recourse they have over us.

“The 10th amendment is very clear; the responsibility of the federal government is spelled out in very specific form. And those powers not given to the federal government are the responsibility of the states and of the people. There is a sovereignty and autonomy to each state that if the governors of those states stood on, they would serve as the last line of defense against overreaching regulation.”

After Bevin made this statement, legal experts said his argument isn’t valid.

When he was on the air, Drew Curtis told Kentucky Public Radio’s Ryland Barton that he would not submit a state plan for Kentucky to comply with the federal regulations. He later changed that position in a statement on his website:

“When the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan and the Power+ Plan recently, I came out in favor of both. Since most power plants are already on their way to compliance, the Clean Power Plan should not be a burden to Kentucky, and the investment in our rural communities from the Power+ Plan is exactly what we need to become a more prosperous and better educated state.

“On September 17th in an interview with WFPL, I said that I probably wouldn’t provide a state plan to the EPA because the EPA version seemed sufficient. I’ve since discovered that unless we do provide one, the EPA takes over and there is no recourse later to provide a state plan. As governor I’d prefer to retain control of this program, so we must provide a plan to the EPA for Kentucky to implement the Clean Power Plan.”

Democrat Jack Conway falls in the middle. As attorney general, he’s joined a multi-state lawsuit against the federal regulations, and he says he’s confident that lawsuit will prevail. Conway has also campaigned heavily as a pro-coal candidate, airing ads promoting his support for mining jobs and coal culture.

Last week on WFPL, Conway wouldn’t speculate whether he would instruct his regulators to create a state plan if the courts uphold the EPA’s regulations.

“You’re asking a hypothetical,” he said. “Let me again say, we’re going to win the lawsuit and I’m going to keep fighting. And at that point, everything has to be on the table. You have to look at what the federal government is proposing to do to you — is it going to be more onerous? Do you get more flexibility by coming up with a state plan? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But everything’s going to be on the table.”

Listen to all three hour-long News Specials: Bevin, Curtis and Conway.

LISTEN: Wallace J. Nichols Explores The Connection Between Water and People Saturday, Oct 10 2015 

The author of the bestselling book on people’s relationship with water will be among the speakers Monday during the IdeaFestival Water event.

Wallace J. Nichols, a scientist and “wild water advocate,” will discuss how human connection with water can provide a “blueprint” for a better life and other ideas laid out in his book, “Blue Mind.”


He said healthy waterways remove stress and help creativity, among other benefits. That, he added, may lead people to appreciate and take better care of their water.

“The last few years, I’ve kind of wondered more deeply about why it is that water makes us feel oftentimes like the best versions of ourselves, whether it’s a bathtub or floating or swimming down a river, or being on the beach near the ocean,” he told WFPL News.

IF Water begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Louisville Water Tower Park and Museum on River Road.

Kentucky Regulators Lift Ohio River Recreation Advisory — But Only for Louisville Area Friday, Oct 9 2015 

State regulators have removed the recreation advisory that’s been in effect for the Ohio River near Louisville for the past month, after harmful algal blooms caused hazardous conditions.

Regulators made the call today after a week’s worth of water sampling indicated that the levels of microcystin toxins — produced by the algae — in the water near Louisville had dropped below the advisory threshold. This is the area where athletes participating in the Ironman triathlon are scheduled to hold a 2.4 mile swim on Sunday; race organizers confirmed late Friday the event would go on as planned.

ohior_hab_1009wholeErica Peterson | wfpl.org

The advisory remains in effect for a large portion of the Ohio River in Kentucky; it reaches from the West Virginia border to the Cannelton Locks and Dam near Hancock County. In that stretch, only the area from Cardinal Harbor in Oldham County to the McAlpine Locks and Dam in Louisville is exempted.

Lanny Brannock, a spokesman for the state Department for Environmental Protection, said Kentucky has been focused on testing the river near Louisville over the past week because of the Ironman race, but testing has occurred in other places. The Ohio River Sanitation Commission has been spearheading a lot of the testing on the river, and that data shows the microcystin levels are dropping in many places.

LISTEN: The Most Overlooked Piece of the Environment Friday, Oct 9 2015 

Ben Grumbles says soil is one of the most under-appreciated components of the environment.

“It’s right under our feet, and it’s often neglected,” he said. “It’s just real easy to forget about it. Yet it’s so important. It links healthy planets, healthy watersheds all together.”

Grumbles is a Louisville native who’s built an impressive career as an environmental regulator. He’s worked on the Clean Water Act, headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, and currently serves as Maryland’s secretary of the environment.

Grumbles will be back in Louisville on Saturday, speaking at an event sponsored by Botanica, the group planning a botanical garden near the Ohio River. His talk is called “The Dirt on Soil, Water and Climate.”

Soil and water are inextricably linked — if soil has too many nutrients, they can leach into the water. Also, unhealthy soil or soil disrupted by development can erode into waterways and cause huge pollution problems, Grumbles said. S.Grumblesphoto

“I think one of the most important messages is what someone once said: The history of the land is written in the water,” he said. “And essentially what that means is how we live our lives, the choices we make, our land-use decisions directly impact our watersheds. And in turn, watersheds depend tremendously on healthy soils and systems.”

Soil also can have an effect on climate change, Grumbles said.

“Soil stores three times as much carbon as in the atmosphere. Soil and trees, those are the biggest natural carbon banks,” he said. “So the basic point is that soil is a critically important component to any successful strategy to deal with climate change.”

Grumbles will be speaking at noon Saturday. For details, click here.

Featured Image: Courtesy Lynn Betts/USDA.

Here’s A Sneak Peek Of The Parklands Of Floyds Fork’s Newest Park Wednesday, Oct 7 2015 

21st Century Parks is scheduled to open the third of four parks next week. The quartet will eventually make up the Parklands of Floyds Fork — a donor-supported public park system near I-265 in eastern Jefferson County.

Turkey Run Park will officially open to the public on Friday, Oct. 16. It’s 800 acres of hills, forests, meadows and ponds. There are paved and unpaved trails for walking, biking and mountain biking, as well as fishing spots, an old silo repurposed as a lookout and picnic areas.

The park's silo lookout peeks above the trees.J. Tyler Franklin

The park’s silo lookout peeks above the trees.

Parklands director Scott Martin said Turkey Run is different from the sports fields, playgrounds and more urban feel of Beckley Creek and Pope Lick Parks.

Turkey RunJ. Tyler Franklin

Boulder Pond, a fishing spot.

“The 800 acres of Turkey Run Park will become, we hope, Louisville’s quiet park,” he said. “And it’s the quiet park of the Parklands system. Its focus is on the forests, the glades, the meadows, the trails and the different ways you can encounter those quiet, special spaces that are authentically Kentucky, authentically Bluegrass, all 12 months of the year.”

Turkey RunJ. Tyler Franklin

One of Turkey Run’s larger paved paths.

Every aspect of the park has been meticulously planned to take advantage of the natural area, Martin said.

“A lot of design thought has gone into these parks. The take has all been to accentuate the natural landscape that’s here,” he said. “When visitors get here, they’re going to be surprised with the rolling topography — this is a much hillier, it almost feels Blue Ridge Mountain-esque, spot. And we didn’t want to take away from that, we wanted to build on it.”

The view from the top of the silo.J. Tyler Franklin

The view from the top of the silo.

The final park — Broad Run Park — and the Strand — a trail that connects Pope Lick to Turkey Run — are scheduled to open next spring.

To get to the Seaton Valley Trailhead of Turkey Run Park, follow these directions:

I-64 East to the Gene Snyder South on Gene Snyder to Billtown Road (exit 19). Left on Belltown Road, which dead-ends into Seatonville Road. Left on Seatonville Road. Drive a mile or so, and the Turkey Run Park entrance will be on your right immediately after crossing over Floyds Fork. The trailhead is about ¼ mile up the road once you’ve entered Turkey Run Park.

Floyds Fork meanders through the park.J. Tyler Franklin

Floyds Fork meanders through the park.

Conference to Explore Ohio Valley’s Environmental History Tuesday, Oct 6 2015 

An academic conference on the environmental history of the Ohio River Valley kicks off in Louisville later this week. It’s sponsored by the Filson Historical Society and the University of Louisville, and over two days, 20 scholars will present papers that examine human-environment interactions in the region’s history.

UofL history professor Glenn Crothers, who helped organize the conference, said environmental history is currently a “hot field” among historians.

“It’s hot because oftentimes historians are deeply influenced by the larger questions that are happening in the broader society,” he said.

The conference looks at environmental topics through a historical lens, with a particular focus on the Ohio River Valley.

“So that means things like coal mining,” Crothers said. “And here in Louisville, the parks system. And we’re interested in Cincinnati and the pork industry there. We’re interested in the generation of power here in the Ohio Valley.”

There are also sessions on agriculture, environmental justice and technology.

The conference begins Thursday evening with a keynote by Uwe Lübken, a German scholar who Crothers said is one of the world’s foremost experts on Ohio River flooding. It continues with sessions on Friday and Saturday. For a full schedule, click here.

First Round of Tests Shows Ohio River Algal Bloom is Waning Monday, Oct 5 2015 

Water sampling shows the massive Ohio River algal bloom is dissipating, which could mean the Ironman swim scheduled for Sunday will go ahead as planned.

About 636 miles of the Ohio River — from Wheeling, W.Va., to Hancock County, Ky. — has been under a recreation advisory for the past month. The harmful algal bloom (HAB) is made up of blue-green algae, a toxic cyanobacteria. Regulators say coming into contact with the water could make people sick.

DEP spokesman Lanny Brannock said last week’s testing shows lower levels of microcystin toxins, which are produced by the bloom.

“The results show us that we have HAB microcystin toxic levels that are four parts per billion or below throughout the racecourse,” he said. “Our advisory threshold is 20 [parts per billion].”

It will take two consecutive tests that are below the advisory threshold for the DEP to lift the warning.

The Ironman triathlon is scheduled for Sunday. The three-part race includes 112 miles of biking and a 26.2 mile marathon. But it’s the 2.4 mile swim that’s worrying race organizers.

In a DEP blog post, Ironman Louisville race director Eric Atnip said the swimming segment of the race would only happen if the water is safe.

“We want the swim portion of the race to take place, but only if it’s deemed safe for the athletes as determined through testing and visual confirmation that HABs are at safe levels in the river,” he said.

State officials will take more water samples tomorrow and expect results Thursday.

In Hamburg, New Ideas For Making And Conserving Energy Friday, Oct 2 2015 

HAMBURG, Germany — I spent my final two days in Hamburg learning about the innovative methods the city is developing to provide power to its residents.

Even though the new coal-fired Moorburg power plant is still visible in the distance, on the river island of Wilhelmsburg there’s a very different type of energy project in progress.

IMG_5114Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

The energy bunker.

There, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is a gigantic World War II-era bunker. Built in 1943 with 80,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete, it towers over the neighborhood. It was built for two reasons: to provide shelter for residents during air raids and to house anti-aircraft cannons to try to shoot down Allied bombers.

A few years after the war, the British Army destroyed the inside of the bunker. But the outside, with concrete walls several meters thick, remained. And a few years ago, as part of the International Building Exhibition, city-owned power company Hamburg Energy decided to restore and reinvent the bunker.

DSC_0390Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

A view of wind turbines from the roof of the energy bunker.

Now, it’s the energy bunker. The top and south wall of the outside are covered with solar panels. There’s also a café on the bunker’s roof, providing a place for locals to relax and enjoy views of the city. And inside, in the one massive room that remains, is a state-of-the-art energy system that uses the solar power, waste heat from a nearby plant and a biogas system to heat 2 million gallons of water.

When it’s finished, the bunker will generate about 22,000 megawatt hours of heat and almost 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity — or enough to heat 3,000 nearby homes and power 1,000.

From the top of the energy bunker, you can see another of Hamburg’s ambitious sustainability projects: HafenCity. HafenCity, which translates to “port city,” is located on what used to be industrial waterfront property. The city is in the middle of a multi-year project to turn the area into several new neighborhoods. They’re building housing (both luxury condominiums and subsidized apartments), schools, parks, business districts and a university.

DSC_0306Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

The not-yet-open Elbphilharmonie concert hall, at the edge of HafenCity.

Part of HafenCity is finished, but a large portion is either under construction or still undeveloped. On Wednesday, there were crowds of people taking advantage of the lovely weather and walking along the multiple boardwalks the city has built along the waterfront. There are also two new U-Bahn (subway stations); spokeswoman Suzanne Bühler said the city knew that extending the subway line was essential to attracting people to HafenCity and making the development as sustainable as possible.

IMG_5078Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

Cranes rise above a playground in HafenCity.

Hamburg has some pretty serious renewable energy goals, and to meet those while still growing, the city and its economy will require efficiency. Hamburg is also a port city with one of the largest harbors in Europe and numerous large energy-intensive manufacturers.

Just like most places in Kentucky, city leaders are figuring out how to balance the environment with the economy. But unlike many places back home, residents here don’t seem to believe sacrificing one will boost the other.

I’m wrapping up the trip today in Berlin with interviews with policy experts. Tomorrow, back to Louisville. WFPL will be airing several in-depth stories about these subjects sometime next month. Stay tuned.

WFPL News’ Erica Peterson is in Germany this week on a reporting trip funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Follow along with her trip on Twitter here

Mining and Burning Coal Draws Tourists in Germany Wednesday, Sep 30 2015 

HAMBURG, Germany—On my second and third days in Germany, I traveled from the Ruhr Valley to the port city of Hamburg and saw coal being both mined and burned.

Yesterday, I visited two of the large open cast lignite mines outside of Cologne. Lignite is a type of coal, but it’s soft and less energy rich than the bituminous (or “hard”) coal that we mine in Kentucky. Dorothea Schubert, a volunteer with a national environmental organization—Friends of the Earth Germany—drove me around in her Peugeot.

The Garzweiler II lignite mine near the town of Erkelenz, outside Cologne, GermanyErica Peterson | wfpl.org

The Garzweiler II lignite mine near the town of Erkelenz, outside Cologne, Germany

The open cast mines are enormous, but look very similar to Appalachia’s strip mines absent the mountains. There’s large machinery, stair-stepped sides, and coal. These mines power lignite power plants right next door; the lignite doesn’t have a very high Btu, so shipping it elsewhere to burn wouldn’t be economical.

While Germany’s Energiewende, or transition to a renewable energy approach, will result in the near-term closure of its hard coal mines, the lignite mines will keep operating for a few more decades. This is a sore spot for environmentalists like Schubert, a former chemistry teacher, who points to the loss of forests and degradation of rich soil and water resources.

The lignite mines are also forcing people to move as the mines creep closer—and eventually engulf—the area’s villages. One of the villages next on the chopping block is the tiny town of Immerath. The people have already re-located a few miles away. But the town is still there—mostly abandoned and creepy. Yesterday, some large pieces of machinery were beginning to tear down the town’s convent.

The former convent of Immerath.Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

The former convent of Immerath.

The weirdest thing about the lignite mines is that they seem to be legitimate tourist attractions. At Garzweiler II, there’s a spot to pull off the road and park, and a boardwalk with signs explaining the mining process. For the 30 minutes we were there, at least a dozen people were present. At the Hambach mine, there were even more. Lounge chairs with beach umbrellas lined the edge of the viewing platform into the mine. There’s a nice restaurant, mini golf, bike paths. It’s hard to imagine anything similar in Kentucky.

DSC_0209Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

A bicyclist on a recreational path leading to Hambach lignite mine.

Apparently energy tourism isn’t unique to the mines. Today I’m in Hamburg, and visited the brand new Moorburg power plant which opened earlier this year. My guide was Gudrun Bode, who’s full-time job is leading power plant tours.

Moorburg is a huge plant, and can produce about 1600 megawatts of electricity—that’s bigger than LG&E’s biggest power plant (Mill Creek, in Louisville). It burns hard coal—some of it from the United States, and some from Russia. The fact that it exists is a sore spot for environmental advocates, who fought its construction. But power company Vattenfall says its power is needed.

Even though Germany’s energy policies give priority to renewable energy, Bode, my guide, says Moorburg is almost always running. The plant is flexible enough to adjust to the needs of the grid; on very sunny or windy days, Moorburg produces less power.

IMG_5061Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

Moorburg is also very efficient. But company representatives say they’ve hit some bureaucratic stumbling blocks to becoming even cleaner and more efficient. For one, the plans for Moorburg included a carbon capture and sequestration pilot project. But Germany doesn’t have any regulations governing carbon capture and sequestration, so Vattenfall couldn’t put the apparatus on Moorburg. Instead, company representatives say the company sold the system “to Canada.”

Tomorrow I’m visiting some energy efficiency projects in Hamburg, and then on Friday I’m heading to Berlin.

WFPL News’ Erica Peterson is in Germany this week on a reporting trip funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Follow along with her trip on Twitter here. 

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