Kentucky Supreme Court Won’t Take Up Bluegrass Pipeline Challenge Thursday, Feb 11 2016 

The Kentucky Supreme Court denied a request on Wednesday by the Bluegrass Pipeline to consider an appeals court ruling that restricts eminent domain to regulated utilities in the state.

The Bluegrass Pipeline was originally proposed in 2013. It was a multi-state natural gas liquids pipeline that would have crossed 13 Kentucky counties, carrying NGLs from the Northeast to processing plants in the Gulf of Mexico. The project met a significant amount of grassroots opposition by residents concerned about safety issues and land and water contamination.

The pipeline company Williams officially put the project on hold in April 2014.

One of the factors that likely ultimately played into the Bluegrass Pipeline’s demise was the question of eminent domain. Kentucky law was murky on the subject. Williams representatives said they were confident the Bluegrass Pipeline would qualify, but some legal experts disagreed. Before the project was scuttled, a group of citizens calling themselves Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain filed a lawsuit, arguing that because it wasn’t a regulated utility, the Bluegrass Pipeline wouldn’t be eligible for eminent domain in Kentucky.

A Franklin County judge ruled in favor of the citizens in March 2014. Williams put the pipeline on hold a month later, but still appealed the decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In May 2015, the Kentucky Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the citizens. Williams also appealed that decision.

Now, with the Supreme Court denying to consider the appeal, the issue should be settled in Kentucky.

“Bluegrass is of course disappointed with yesterday’s ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court, but does not plan take any further action on the issue,” said Williams company spokesman Tom Droege.

Attorney Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council represented KURE in the lawsuit; he said the decision will have implications for another project proposed in the state.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline is an existing natural gas pipeline; energy company Kinder Morgan is seeking federal permission to reverse the pipeline’s flow and convert it to carry natural gas liquids.

“To the extent that any new easements are required for the natural gas liquids project, that company will have to acquire them in a good faith, arms-length transaction, and the landowner very clearly can just say ‘no,'” FitzGerald said.

This story has been updated.

After Supreme Court Ruling, Kentucky Will Delay Outreach On Carbon Plan Thursday, Feb 11 2016 

In the wake of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to temporarily halt the implementation of federal carbon dioxide regulations, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said it would also delay seeking public input on its compliance options.

The first deadline under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan was supposed to be in September. That was the month states were required to either submit a plan to comply with the rules or declare their intention to follow a federal blanket plan.

Last month, Kentucky Energy Secretary Charles Snavely announced the cabinet would seek a two-year extension. The EPA requires states requesting an extension to gather public input on their compliance options, and Snavely said the cabinet would do that via listening sessions around the commonwealth.

Now, the rule has been stayed until legal challenges are resolved, which will likely push the plan’s timeline back.

“Conducting listening sessions at this time is premature because the [Clean Power Plan] could change substantially as a result of litigation, or it could be vacated altogether,” Snavely said in a written statement. “The CPP’s unprecedented requirements have placed states in an untenable position relative to electricity generation, threatening energy affordability and reliability.”

If the rule is ultimately vacated, the EPA whave to go back to the drawing board. An endangerment finding by the Supreme Court in 2007 means the agency is required to regulate carbon dioxide, but the process could be delayed for years.

Louisville Public Works Seeks To Reduce Waste In Landfills Wednesday, Feb 10 2016 

Louisville Metro Public Works is using a new model for creating a strategy to reduce the city’s waste that ultimately ends up in landfills.

The city will form a “collective impact committee” of business representatives and residents to address waste and recycling issues. The committee — which is open to anyone — aims to create a strategy to meet the waste reduction goals set by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office in its 2013 Sustainability Plan.

The plan seeks to achieve 90 percent residential recycling participation by 2025 and to divert 90 percent of solid waste from landfills by 2042.

The committee will be structured according to the collective impact model, “where organizations from different sectors agree to solve a specific community challenge using a common agenda, aligning efforts and using a common measure of success,” said Public Education Coordinator Angela Futter.

Futter said the first meeting would allow attendees to discuss the logistics of the committee and its constraints and opportunities.

“We’re going to work with the stakeholders and see what works for everyone,” she said. ”We are open to having anybody that is interested to come in … and we would love to have as much participation as we can get.”

But Solid Waste Advisory Committee Member Sarah Lynn Cunningham said political action would ultimately be needed for the committee to be effective.

“There’s no shortage of plans, no shortage of proposals and studies, but a shortage on political will to actually implement these ideas,” Cunningham said.

To meet its goals, the city will need more infrastructure to divert waste from landfills, Cunningham said. And she said any conversation will also have to include areas of Louisville Metro outside the Urban Services District and larger small cities.

“The administrations of the fifth- and sixth-class cities throughout the county can throw a wrench into the works if they don’t want to do anything differently than what they’re already doing,” she said. “We’re going to have to work hard to get them to see why this is in their interest, too, or else they are likely going to try to block it.”

The collective impact model is already being used in Louisville. Futter said the model is implemented by the 55,000 Degrees program, which is aimed at increasing graduation rates, and in the Dual Diagnosis Cross-Functional Team, which seeks to reduce substance abuse.

The first meeting of the Reuse Collective Impact Committee is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. on Feb. 16 at Metro United Way, 334 E. Broadway.

Obama’s Budget Proposal Includes More Money For Struggling Coalfields Wednesday, Feb 10 2016 

President Barack Obama is asking for more money for economic and community development in Appalachia in his fiscal year 2017 budget request to Congress.

The proposal, released Tuesday, includes $70 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s base economic development programs, as well as an additional $50 million for grants through the POWER initiative.

The budget also includes another $20 million for job training for unemployed coal workers, money for coal-related brownfields remediation and new tax incentives for coal plants that use carbon capture and sequestration technology.

The president proposed the POWER plan in his budget last year, laying out millions in spending to go toward coalfields communities suffering as coal production declines and coal-fired power plants shut down or transition to natural gas.

ARC federal co-chair Earl Gohl said the funding in Obama’s budget is the largest requested increase for the commission by a president in 30 years. And he said the work the ARC would be able to do with that kind of money is significant.

“We’ll be in a position to make investments in strengthening the workforce, in developing entrepreneurial activities, in expanding and making broadband more available and to create and support the development of industry clusters throughout the region,” Gohl said.

Over the past year, large amounts of federal money have begun flowing to Appalachia. The budget approved by Congress at the end of last year sent $146 million to the ARC and millions more to the region, while another bill pending would expedite a billion dollars from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to go to environmental projects and economic development in coal-producing areas.

Gohl said this budget request is responding to those changes going on in the country’s energy landscape.

“And while many of those changes really provide a great deal of hope and improvement in our lives, there are also some of those changes that have very negative impacts on communities and workers,” he said. “And what these funds are an attempt to do is provide a pathway to help support that economic transition in those communities.”

Gohl said he’s confident that federal investment in the area will end up paying off for the country’s taxpayers.

“Appalachia is the next great investment opportunity in America,” he said.

Supreme Court Sides With Kentucky And Other States, Puts Clean Power Plan On Hold Tuesday, Feb 9 2016 

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to halt enforcement of federal carbon dioxide regulations until legal challenges to the rule are resolved.

The stay issued Tuesday evening is a blow to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets individual carbon dioxide reduction goals for each state.

Kentucky is one of 29 states and state agencies challenging the legality of the regulations. That lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but the Supreme Court decision will effectively block the implementation of the rule until the lower court acts.

The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the Clean Power Plan’s opponents. Kentucky, for one, had sought the stay in an attempt to get the litigation settled before the state invested time and money in developing a compliance plan for the rule.

Kentucky joined the lawsuit under then-Attorney General Jack Conway, and current Attorney General Andy Beshear is continuing the state’s involvement. In a statement, Beshear praised the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Kentucky’s coal industry and miners have been decimated by guidelines that up until now they have not had the standing to challenge,” he wrote. “Regardless of where you stand on these issues, the federal government must follow the law. The EPA guidelines simply are not allowed under the law.”

The rule is designed to reduce the U.S.’s carbon emissions in an effort to slow global climate change. It’s considered essential to the country meeting the goals it committed to at the COP21 climate talks in Paris last year.

The first deadline under the plan is in September; Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet had already announced its intention to seek an extension, but the stay will likely push that deadline back even further. The first benchmark for carbon reductions is in 2022 under the current plan, with states’ full compliance required by 2030.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case beginning on June 2, and whatever the outcome, it’s likely it will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

This story has been updated.

Kentucky Energy Chief Acknowledges Dismal Short-Term Outlook For Coal Sunday, Feb 7 2016 

The new head of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet doesn’t expect any short-term rebound in the state’s struggling coal industry. In his first appearance before the state Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Secretary Charles Snavely told senators the outlook wasn’t good over the next five years.

State Sen. Ray Jones, a Pikeville Democrat, told Snavely, a former coal executive,  about the suffering in his district as more miners are laid off, and asked if there was any hope that the industry would recover soon.

“Well, I regret you asked me that question in a public forum because if you ask me a question, I’m going to give you the answer,” Snavely said. “I don’t feel that within a 5-year timeframe in Eastern Kentucky that (there) will be a rebound in the coal industry. I don’t see it.”

The reasons why are complicated. Snavely said they include world economic conditions, competition from cheaper natural gas and regulatory uncertainty that’s making it more difficult for electric utilities to invest in new coal-fired facilities.

“And if you combine that with the fact that generally, for coal that’s used to produce electricity, Eastern Kentucky especially is on the higher end of the cost curve,” Snavely said. “The cheapest coal that’s produced in the United States, it comes out of the Illinois Basin or it comes out of Wyoming, Montana.”

Snavely wasn’t asked about coal’s long-term prospects, though many experts say it’s unlikely to ever employ as many people in Kentucky as it has in the past.

The state’s latest quarterly coal report was released last week; it showed Kentucky’s coal production at its lowest level since 1954, and more than 10,000 coal miners have lost their jobs since the fourth quarter of 2008.

MSD’s Plans For Smoketown Basin Called Unequal Friday, Feb 5 2016 

On the corner of Breckenridge and Logan streets, at the edge of Smoketown, there’s a giant hole in the ground. It’s an active construction site, with trucks and heavy machinery working behind a barbed-wire fence.

This hole is part of the city’s solution to a long-term problem: a combined sewer system that can’t handle heavy rain.

Jessica Bellamy sees something else.

“We’re looking at a big hole in the ground that’s causing a lot of problems for people in the community,” she said.

This is the future site of the Logan Street Basin, the focus of criticism from Smoketown residents of the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District and its outreach efforts.

The basin, under construction.J. Tyler Franklin

The basin, under construction.

When it rains, diluted sewage pours into waterways through channels called Combined Sewer Overflows, or CSOs. As part of an $850 million federal consent decree to reduce these overflows, MSD is building 12 large CSO basins in the city. The basins will hold the overflow sewage until the rain stops, and will then pump it to the treatment plant.

When the Logan Street project is complete, the hole will be a gigantic underground basin that can hold 12.5 million gallons of sewage.

The basin’s location doesn’t bother residents.

“I’ve never heard anyone say the project is unnecessary, or that it shouldn’t go on at its current location,” Randy Webber said.

Bellamy is the secretary of the Smoketown Neighborhood Association and Webber is the president.

They said construction of the basin hasn’t been good for Smoketown; it’s noisy, and people have reported property damage from the blasting.

But the biggest issue is one of inequity.

The Logan Street basin is one of 12 similar projects planned across the city. It’s the only basin that will be covered by a large, windowless building.

“They asked every other neighborhood that’s getting a basin, ‘Hey, do you want this above ground, or do you want this below ground and have a park on top?’ And they said ‘Oh, we’d rather have a park on top.’ But we didn’t even get asked, we didn’t get that courtesy,” Bellamy said.

Jessica Bellamy and Randy Webber

Jessica Bellamy and Randy Webber

It’s true that MSD made more effort to gather community input for the basins in other parts of Louisville.

The Logan Street Basin was the first to move forward in planning, about eight years ago, said John Loechle, director of engineering for MSD. There were a number of factors that led to the decision to build a large structure above the basin, he said.

“We like to leave things the way they are,” Loechle said. “So if it’s a green field, when we’re done we’d like it to be a green field. When we were planning this project, the area was full of industrial-type warehouse buildings.”

The lot is also bordered on two sides by single-family homes.

MSD figured that a large brick, warehouse-style structure would be an improvement for the site, which was previously a parking lot and junkyard. Complicating matters is that the basin is right next to Beargrass Creek, in a floodplain, which Loechle said would have made it more expensive to construct a basin covered with green space.

Still, the process for formulating the Logan Street Basin plan was different than the others. MSD was required to do public outreach for the project, which Loechle said they did.

“Although we didn’t do anything wrong, we followed typical planning and zoning meetings and all that kind of stuff, that it wouldn’t hurt for us to be a little more proactive and get out there, and we didn’t for Logan,” he said.

For the other 11 basins that came after, MSD held a series of four meetings. MSD has an active informational survey on their website about another basin — this one at the intersection of Lexington and Payne streets. The information from the public will help the agency get more community input about the project, even from people who couldn’t make it to a public meeting.

“Logan did not get this opportunity,” Loechle acknowledged.

Now, MSD is trying to appease the basin’s neighbors. They’re designating $700,000 for an architectural firm to work with the community to design the building’s façade and landscaping.

But residents are still furious at what they perceive as another example of a low-income neighborhood getting short shrift.

“We’re not going to stop feeling the way we feel,” Bellamy said. “This Band-Aid treatment of $700,000, it’s not going to change anything other than a façade and maybe the surroundings, literally. This would not happen in any other neighborhood. Especially in the East End, Crescent Hill, any of those places.”

Webber said now that residents have spoken out against the project, they’re waiting to see what solutions the architects suggest.

“Whichever way things break, it’s not going to be our last struggle over how we want our community to develop,” he said.

Despite ‘Modest’ Results, Fracking Interest Remains In Eastern Kentucky Thursday, Feb 4 2016 

There’s still a lot of interest in the possibility of large-scale gas and oil drilling in Eastern Kentucky, but activity in the Rogersville Shale has slowed over the past few months.

The Rogersville Shale is a Cambrian-age formation that lies under much of Eastern Kentucky and extends into West Virginia. Over the past two years, speculation has grown that the shale play could be as big as or bigger than the Marcellus and Utica shales, which spurred a wave of interest in the region. Many landowners in Lawrence County, Kentucky, reported visits by landmen looking to lease their mineral rights.

Drilling into shale like the Rogersville requires large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting large quantities of water and sand into the wells to release more oil and gas.

Dave Harris of the Kentucky Geological Survey said so far, five test wells have been drilled into the Rogersville. Four of those are in Kentucky and one is in West Virginia.

The production data of all but one of those wells is a secret. But in August, Cimarex subsidiary Bruin Exploration released data on the Sylvia Young well in Lawrence County. Harris said the results were underwhelming.

“The well showed fairly modest results,” he said.

It produced about 115,000 cubic feet of gas and 19 barrels of oil per day.

But, Harris said, that doesn’t mean the Rogersville won’t prove profitable for the industry eventually. Sylvia Young was a vertical well where operators drill down into the earth. There’s a chance that a horizontal well, where operators drill down vertically and then branch out horizontally, would produce a lot more oil and gas.

“It is definitely not proven yet,” he said. “The positive side, I guess, is that they were able to produce some hydrocarbons from the Rogersville shale. So they’ve proven that the Rogersville is capable of producing hydrocarbons. But whether it’s capable of producing it in sufficient quantities and volumes and rates remains to be shown.”

When speculation began in the Rogersville, many residents worried that fracking would cause environmental, health and seismic problems. Those concerns persist. Bruin’s data show the company used 677,000 gallons of fluid to frack the Sylvia Young well in Lawrence County, as well as nearly 600,000 pounds of sand.

With the underwhelming initial results out of the Sylvia Young well, Bruin is now drilling the well horizontally. But Harris said the holdups to further development in the Rogersville are low oil and gas prices. Natural gas is currently about $1.93 per MMBtu, which is the lowest it’s been since 1999. Oil prices also recently hit a low: It’s selling for about $30 a barrel.

For producers to see economic benefits to drilling in the deep, expensive Rogersville Shale, Harris said oil will have to reach $60 or $70 a barrel, and gas $3 or $4 per MMBtu.

Rogers Proposes $1 Billion For Coal Country Wednesday, Feb 3 2016 

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers on Wednesday announced a bi-partisan initiative to send $1 billion to coalfields communities.

The RECLAIM Act (which stands for Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More), is co-sponsored by Rogers and a bipartisan group of coalfields congressmen. The bill would send a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.

Rogers, a Republican, represents much of Eastern Kentucky in the House.

“In Kentucky alone, we’ve lost more than 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Instead of allowing those funds to go unused, now is the time to help our coal producing states reinvest in the coalfields with projects that can create new jobs and reinvigorate our economy,” Rogers said in a statement.

“Many coal communities in Appalachia simply do not have the resources to reclaim the abandoned mine sites within their borders. This bill allows these communities to be proactive in restoring these sites and utilize them to put our people back to work.”

If the bill becomes law, $200 million would go to participating states over the next five years. The money will be used to clean up abandoned mine sites, as well as identify and fund economic development projects on the sites.

The bill was applauded by non-profit Appalachian Voices, which has been pushing for economic development funding for the region.

“We applaud Congressmen Griffith, Rogers and their colleagues for introducing this forward-thinking legislation,” said Appalachian Voices’ Adam Wells in a statement. “More than two dozen local governments have called for federal investment in their communities. Releasing this funding now would support efforts taking place all across Central Appalachia to secure the region’s economic future.”

This funding will add to money already coming to the region through the appropriations bill Congress passed late last year. Rogers chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Former Kentucky Coal Miner Combats Stereotypes Through Writing Tuesday, Feb 2 2016 

Gary Bentley spent 12 years as an underground coal miner in Kentucky before he left the industry in 2013. He started writing about his experiences recently in an effort to combat stereotypes about coal miners he sees in the media and popular culture.

Gary BentleyJ. Tyler Franklin

Gary Bentley

“It’s romanticized in a way that I don’t feel is accurate,” Bentley said.

He said either coal miners are portrayed in nostalgic ways and held up like hometown heroes, or they’re demonized by groups who oppose the coal industry.

“I just feel like you never see straight down the middle, from the eyes of the people that are actually working in the industry,” he said. “I always feel like you’re hearing the stories and opinions from outside the area.”

So Bentley started blogging on the rural news website “The Daily Yonder.” In his column,  “In the Black,” he’s sharing stories from his career in the mines.

He discussed his experiences and his writing with WFPL News.

On the perception of coal mining as the only option for prosperity in Eastern Kentucky:

“In that area, you see nice homes, nice cars, boats, motorcycles, these people who are living a very comfortable, good life. And a lot of those are coal miners. In order to go to college, I had to pay for it. And really, working underground was the only way.”

On whether that perception has changed in the coal industry’s recent downturn:

“It’s definitely changed. It’s not a sustainable economy. But when people for over 100 years are born and raised, they see their grandparents, great-grandparents, their children, grandchildren able to make a decent living through that industry, they’re very protective of it. So I think it’s going to be hard for a lot of people to give up the idea that this is still their way to provide.”

On the role coal will play in Eastern Kentucky’s future:

“I look at it as sort of, kind of the way of old-time string music. I mean, it’s still being held onto, it’s actually thriving right now. I think coal mining will be the same way, because it’s our heritage, it’s what we grew up with. So yeah, I think it’s something that will always be held onto and looked at and viewed in the history of Southeastern Kentucky.”

To read more from Bentley’s series “In the Black,” go here.

(Featured image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Peabody Energy.)

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