Sprawl, Funding Again Land Louisville Parks Near Bottom Of Ranking Friday, May 27 2016 

Once again, Louisville — a city that prides itself on its park system — has landed near the bottom of a ranking of parks.

In the non-profit group Trust for Public Lands’ annual list, released on Thursday, Louisville’s park system was ranked 93 out of 100 around the country.

Trust for Public Lands scores cities on several factors, including park acreage, a city’s per capita spending on parks, and the percentage of a population that lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. It’s the latter two that contributed heavily to Louisville’s low score.

“What you have in Louisville effectively is a tale of two cities,” said Trust for Public Lands’ Adrian Benepe. On one hand, there’s “the historic core of Louisville — which has all those wonderful Olmsted parks and extraordinary new vision parks like the riverfront park.”

Then there’s the newer areas of the city, where suburbs  “weren’t really planned around community parks. They were planned around people having backyards,” Benepe said.

This has been a perennial problem when it comes to Louisville’s annual ranking in the Trust for Public Lands metric. In 2012, the city was ranked 38 out of 40. In 2013, it was 49 out of 50. In 2014, it was 58 out of 60. And last year, it was 72 out of 74.

Most areas of Louisville that create problems for park access are outside I-264 in the eastern, south and southwestern parts of the county. The completion of the Parklands of Floyds Fork this year helped a little, but the area’s low population density means that despite the size of those parks, few people can walk to them in 10 minutes.

“We are working on it, but again, it’s a bigger piece of the pie, so it’ll take some more time,” said Louisville Metro Parks Director Seve Ghose. “It won’t be like turning a key, so to speak, and getting the changes right away.”

Ghose said he disagrees with the way the Trust for Public Lands measures park access, but he said it’s a priority for his department to connect more neighborhoods to green spaces. He said some of the work in progress — like the Louisville Loop trail around the city — will help expand access.

Besides the issues created by city-county merger and park-poor suburbs, Louisville also ranked low for its spending on parks per capita. The city only spends about $55 per resident on park improvements and maintenance, according to the review.

“I can agree with that one,” Ghose said. “Spending per capita is very low, and I voiced my concerns when I was hired during the interview process. My goal as the director is to educate the powers that be and say parks and recreation does matter in a community for health and wellness, quality of life, home values, economic development, all those pieces.

“So yes,” he said, “hopefully in the coming years, we’ll see more dollars spent per capita on parks.”

Benepe said one way cities have coped with both increasing park access and limited funds has been to partner with public schools to open up athletic fields and playgrounds to the public after hours. Ghose said he’s willing to explore such a partnership in Louisville.

But despite the city’s perennial poor ranking, Benepe said there’s good news, too. Louisville has a rich tradition of parks, which creates a good foundation to expand on.

“Our view would be, do more what of what you’re doing, and also look to create many more small neighborhood parks that are within walking distance,” he said.

To view more about the rankings, click here.

LISTEN: Louisvillians Talk About Kentucky’s Energy Challenges, Future Wednesday, May 25 2016 

Non-profit group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is crowd-sourcing ideas for a state plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

They’re doing this as federal carbon dioxide regulations are on hold, while Kentucky and other states challenge the rule in court. State regulators say they’ll wait to get public input on a plan until litigation is over.

About 200 people gathered for dinner and conversation Tuesday night in Louisville. They talked about personal experiences, as well as the challenges Kentucky’s energy landscape faces and their vision for the future.

Listen to what some of them had to say in the audio player at the top of the page.

A Louisville School Is Trying To Prove Whether Trees Reduce Air Pollution Tuesday, May 24 2016 

A Louisville Catholic school will be the site of a new air pollution experiment, as researchers at the University of Louisville study whether trees and greenery can reduce pollution from a nearby roadway.

St. Margaret Mary School is located on Shelbyville Road, right across from Oxmoor Mall. It’s a busy road, and during peak times, cars often back up and idle at traffic lights.

It’s known that trees and greenery help reduce some types of air pollution — and that reducing such pollution has some health benefits. But this summer, University of Louisville researchers will begin testing whether adding a vegetative buffer at St. Margaret Mary will have a measurable effect on the pollution on school grounds.

“People appreciate trees and they’re good and they’re aesthetically pleasing, but whether they actually have specific quantifiable health-promoting effects by removing pollutants from air has never been rigorously tested,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, the director of U of L’s Diabetes and Obesity Center.

The research is a collaboration between the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil, Louisville Metro Government’s Office of Sustainability and U of L. Air monitoring will begin this summer.

Bhatnagar said previous research around the country has largely focused on comparing leafier neighborhoods with other, comparable neighborhoods, rather than taking one location and testing the effects of increasing its greenery. The monitors will test for both particle pollution and certain volatile organic compounds linked to vehicle exhaust.

Sometime this fall, after several months of monitoring, Bhatnagar’s team will plant a “green screen” of 15-20-foot-tall trees and bushes, buffering parts of the school’s campus from Shelbyville Road. Monitoring will continue through the next year or so.

St. Margaret Mary School Principal Wendy Sims said students will be involved in the monitoring and will use the space as an outdoor classroom. She said eventually, the school will decide whether to continue the vegetative screen across the entire lawn.

“If we decide that this is very beneficial for our families and the building itself, we can continue planting on the other side,” she said.

Bhatnagar said the research should show whether there’s measurable data to back up the idea that plants help shield from air pollution in a given space. It also might provide information about what types of trees and planting density is most effective. But he said enlisting St. Margaret Mary students to help with the experiment is an added benefit.

“One particular outcome we are assured of is that we would pique the interest of the students and get them involved in this as a scientific experiment to develop citizen scientists of the future,” he said.

Bhatnagar said eventually, he’d like to conduct the same research on a neighborhood scale. Working with students has limited possibilities for examining some of the health issues that plague adults, he said. And later, he’d like to examine disease outcomes and their relationship to trees in a single neighborhood.

MSD Board Approves 20 Percent Rate Increase Monday, May 23 2016 

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District board has approved a 20 percent rate increase.

The board’s Finance Committee and full board endorsed the proposal Monday. The move would increase the average residential customer’s bill from just over $49 a month to nearly $59 a month.

Some of the rate increase is due to higher-than-expected capital spending for MSD to comply with an $850 federal consent decree to reduce discharges into the Ohio River.

The board has raised rates every year for the past decade, but except for a substantial jump in 2007, the rate increases were generally between 5 and 7 percent. Any rate increase larger than 7 percent also requires approval by the Metro Council.

A presentation to the council on the agency’s financial plans is scheduled for June.

High Ozone Levels Prompt Air Quality Alert For Tuesday Monday, May 23 2016 

Rising ozone levels Tuesday could result in air that’s unhealthy for sensitive groups.Air quality alert

The Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District has issued an Air Quality Alert for ozone, saying the air pollution could affect young children, the elderly and people with respiratory ailments like asthma and COPD.

This year marks the first ozone season when Louisville will be subject to stricter federal ozone standards, and subject to a limit of 70 parts per billion.

The previous standard was 75 parts per billion.

Louisville Moving Ahead Despite Bill To Delay New Ozone Standards Monday, May 23 2016 

Louisville is now officially in ozone season, the several months every year when pollution and meteorological factors contribute to unhealthy ozone levels in the area.

And as the city and state continue to work toward complying with a new, stricter federal ozone standard, measures working through Congress would delay the new rules, giving states more time to comply.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone used to be 75 parts per billion for an eight-hour average. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency tightened the standard, citing updated information about ozone’s health effects. Now, the new standard is 70 parts per billion, and the EPA will begin determining whether places are meeting that next year.

But a bill being debated by the U.S. House of Representatives would require the EPA to wait until 2025 to determine if states and metro areas are complying with the rule. It would also change the Clean Air Act to allow the EPA to consider new air rules every 10 years — as opposed to the five years currently in the law — and allow the agency to consider a rule’s cost before finalization. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate.

The bill passed the House Energy and Commerce committee last week in a vote along party lines. Democrats on the committee objected to the bill, arguing it guts the Clean Air Act.

But in Louisville and across Kentucky, regulators don’t predict the legislation will have many practical implications for how they approach reducing ozone emissions.

Louisville’s ozone averages have been on a downward trend, except for a particularly bad stretch in 2012. The government will determine compliance after three years of data, which would come later this year.

Air Pollution Control District spokesman Tom Nord said it’s hard to say whether Louisville will be within the new, stricter standard.

“I think we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to look at the data and see that we’re pretty close, we’re right on the line now,” he said. “You’re talking Kentuckiana, you’re talking about the age-old issues we deal with, which is heat in the summer, the valley, stagnant air. We could be out of attainment. We’ve been very upfront about that.”

Nord said the APCD generally doesn’t take positions on federal legislation, but he said regardless of whether the pending bill becomes law, it won’t change the agency’s work toward meeting the new standard.

“We’re going to pursue meeting the standard — I don’t feel like we’re going to wait around,” Nord said. “I don’t see us stopping our work or waiting around. If they give us five years or 10 years, we’re still going to work on meeting that standard.”

Statewide, Division of Air Quality Director Sean Alteri said most areas of the commonwealth will likely meet the new standard, though the monitors in Northern Kentucky are indicating that area may not be in attainment.

“Air quality is greatly improved in Kentucky in the last 10 years,” Alteri said. “And I think that we don’t want to lose sight of our progress. There’s still more to do, but I think people should be proud of the fact that air quality is much improved, just in the last decade.”

As standards tighten, cities and states may have to explore new ways to cut emissions. Kentucky’s nitrogen oxide emissions have dropped 50 percent over the past decade, Alteri said, mainly due to coal power plant retirements and updated pollution controls.

In Louisville, a lot of the most obvious emitters of pollutants that cause ozone have cut back or installed new technology to meet stricter pollution regulations. One of the city’s two coal-fired power plants — Cane Run — retired last year. The other — Mill Creek — installed new pollution controls.

MSD Staff To Seek 20 Percent Rate Increase Friday, May 20 2016 

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District is proposing a 20 percent rate increase in wastewater and stormwater volume and service charges.

The proposed resolution will go before the MSD Finance Committee and Board on Monday; if it’s approved, it could be finalized in July and the rate increase would become effective on August 1.

In a memo included in the board packet for the upcoming meeting, MSD Finance Director Chad Collier wrote that the agency had already planned on annual rate increases to help fund the agency’s annual operations and fund the additional $850 million that’s needed for the federal consent decree to reduce discharges into the Ohio River. Last year, rates increased 5.5 percent. The rate increase that was projected for this year was also 5.5 percent.

Here’s a chart WFPL created last year chronicling the past decade of MSD rate increases.

But in the memo, Collier said there’s been more capital project spending than accounted for in the original plan.

“This increased capital spending, together with bonding capacity limits, will require a 20% rate increase for 2016. A 20% rate increase will enable MSD to continue providing for our community’s public health and safety while addressing major aging infrastructure repair needs and address the additional demands created by the increasing frequency of extreme storm events.”

MSD spokesman Steve Tedder declined to elaborate on the proposal, saying only that the 20 percent rate increase is a staff recommendation.

“We will make a presentation to the board on Monday at the board meeting, and that’s when the full discussion on this will occur,” he said.

Any rate increase larger than seven percent is also required to be approved by Metro Council, he added. A presentation to the council on the agency’s financial plans is scheduled for June.

Clean Power Plan Court Date Delayed Until September Tuesday, May 17 2016 

A federal court has moved back oral arguments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide regulations, but legal experts disagree on what the move means.

The EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan last August and almost immediately, a coalition of states including Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the regulations. The rules set power plant carbon dioxide emissions goals for each state and lets them decide whether to craft individual plans to meet the goals, or follow a federal blanket plan. In most places, the regulations will disproportionately affect coal-fired power plants because those plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide.

As Kentucky’s executive branch switched parties last November, the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet was grappling with how to respond to the regulations. Under Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, the cabinet began creating a transition document to examine ways the state could create a plan to comply. But during the first few months of Republican Governor Matt Bevin’s administration, cabinet officials indicated they weren’t sure how they’d proceed. In January, the state announced it would seek more time to determine the best way to move forward.

But in February, the Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan, blocking it from going into effect until the legal challenges are resolved.

Now, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has made two significant changes to the way arguments for and against the plan will be heard. The arguments have been pushed back from June to September and rather than a three-judge panel, the entire bench will be present.

This could have the effect of speeding up the ultimate decision, as Washington Post commentator Jonathan Adler notes:

“The most likely explanation for the court’s order is that several of the judges (likely including one or more assigned to the original panel) concluded that some of the issues involved in the case, and perhaps the Clean Power Plan itself, are of such significance that they warranted the court’s attention in the first instance. While the immediate effect of the en banc order is to delay oral arguments by three months, the ultimate effect could be to accelerate review as it ensures that en banc review will occur sooner than it would have had the parties needed to wait for a three-judge panel before seeking such review. (This assumes that one or more losing parties would have petitioned for en banc review and that a majority of active participating judges would have found the case en banc worthy.)”

Or, it could mean the Circuit Court is skeptical about the legality of the EPA’s regulations, as mentioned in E & E Publishing:

Opponents of the plan to cut carbon emissions from the power sector say the court’s decision is evidence of judicial skepticism toward the rule. [Scott] Segal, of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council — an industry coalition that opposes the rule — noted that the bar for en banc review is high, requiring that a case be “a question of exceptional importance.” Segal says the court’s move shows that the rule is well beyond EPA’s traditional powers.

“Supporters of the Rule have portrayed the case as essentially a garden-variety administrative law case that can be disposed of by simply citing to agency deference,” he said. “It would appear the D.C. Circuit sees it differently.”

But with or without the rules, power plants in Kentucky and around the country are shutting down because the cost of retrofitting them with updated pollution controls is proving uneconomical. Many are switching to natural gas; last year, the percentage of the commonwealth’s electricity that came from natural gas grew from 5 to 7 percent, while coal dropped from 92 percent in 2014 to 87 percent in 2015.

Got Coalfields Development Ideas? Kentucky Has $30 million Monday, May 16 2016 

Kentucky regulators are looking for proposals to spur economic development on Appalachia’s abandoned surface mines.

Two state cabinets — the Cabinet of Economic Development and the Energy and Environment Cabinet — announced the pilot program Monday. It’s funded by the massive spending bill passed by Congress last year that sent $90 million to Abandoned Mine Lands programs in the region. Kentucky’s share of that money is $30 million.

The bill’s language requires the money to go toward projects that reclaim abandoned mine lands and create economic and community development. Additional money was included in President Obama’s “Power+ Plan”— a part of his Fiscal Year 2016 budget that addresses economic development in the nation’s coalfields. Obama’s budget hasn’t seen any movement in Congress.

With the $30 million available to Kentucky through the spending bill, state officials say they’re looking for projects that would bring long-term, dramatic growth to Appalachia. State and local governments are the only eligible grant recipients, and projects must be in one of the 54 counties that are in Eastern or Southeastern Kentucky.

“This pilot program is a tremendous opportunity for leaders in our Appalachian counties,” Gov. Matt Bevin said in a news release. “We must identify projects with real potential for long term success. If used wisely, these funds will improve lives and strengthen the economy in the region for generations to come. These funds will be vital to attracting more jobs and creating more opportunities for the people of Appalachia, while also solving the problem of abandoned mine lands. The potential of this program is enormous, and we must make the best use of these one-time funds.”

Applications for project funding can be found here.

LISTEN: WFPL News Special On Louisville’s Urban Heat Island Monday, May 16 2016 

A landmark study of Louisville’s urban heat island was released last month, and it offers tailored recommendations for the city’s neighborhoods to combat the phenomenon.

During an hour-long news special Monday, WFPL environment reporter Erica Peterson led a discussion on Louisville’s urban heat island, other local effects of climate change and what steps the city could take to keep residents safe and healthy.

Listen in the audio player above.

Our guests were:

  • Study author Dr. Brian Stone of Georgia Tech
  • Maria Koetter, Louisville Office of Sustainability
  • Sarah Lynn Cunningham, Louisville Climate Action Network

In Louisville, as in many cities, heavily urban areas are warmer than surrounding rural ones because they lack tree canopy cover and have an abundance of paved surfaces.

“It’s a phenomenon you can really observe in real-time if you have a thermometer in your car,” said Stone. “If you work downtown in Louisville and you drive out away from the city, you will see the temperature drop the farther you drive.”

Stone said heat islands are commonplace and have been recognized for hundreds of years. What’s unique to Louisville is the rate at which the heat island is growing over time.

“Louisville is warming more rapidly — over the last several decades — than any other city,” he said.

Hear the entire discussion in the player above.

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