Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

Above: FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2014 file photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cutout depicting a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. The Republican-controlled Kentucky state legislature is on the cusp of lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy, a move unthinkable just three years ago in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. As the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives. David Goldman, File AP Photo

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press


Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the country’s third-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

The Republican-controlled state legislature is close to lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. Politicians from both parties have promised for years to revive the struggling coal industry, with Trump famously billing himself as “the last shot for miners.” But as the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.

“There are other factors other than the administration in the White House that controls this. There are banks that are reluctant at this point to give loans for coal-fired furnaces,” said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill. “You look at the jobs that were lost, you look at the production of coal and how that has declined, we’ve got to learn lessons from that and we’ve got to have a third option.”

Kentucky’s coal industry has been steadily declining for decades. Coal mining employment has fallen from 31,000 in 1990 to just over 6,300. Just three years ago, coal-fired power plants provided 93 percent of the state’s electricity. Today, that has fallen to 83 percent, according to the Kentucky Coal Association, as older plants are being shut down and replaced by natural gas.

Kentucky is one of 15 states that restrict the construction of new nuclear power facilities according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin lifted its ban last year. Nationwide, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bill has passed the state Senate and could get a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin told Cincinnati radio station WKRC he would not veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

“I don’t see it as a threat to that existing energy infrastructure. I see it as just increasing the opportunities of things we might be able to do in Kentucky,” he said.

The bill has been pushed by local government and business leaders in the western part of the state, which was home to one of the few uranium enrichment plants in the country before it closed in 2013. That left the area teeming with a skilled workforce with no hope of employment in their field.

“Without that moratorium lifted, we absolutely have no opportunity,” said Bob Leeper, the judge executive for McCracken County and a former state senator who has pushed to lift the moratorium for years.

But Kentucky has been burned by the nuclear industry in the past. In the 1960s, seeking to lure the emerging nuclear energy industry into the state, Kentucky set up a place to store toxic waste. From 1963 to 1977, more than 800 corporations dumped 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site, but no nuclear reactor was ever built. The Maxey Flats site is closed, but its contaminated soil, surface water and groundwater resulted in an expensive state and federal cleanup.

“This is the Faustian bargain we engage in. We get cheap energy, but we saddle future generations with millennia responsibility of being mature enough to properly manage waste we are generating,” said Tom Fitzgerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, which has opposed lifting the moratorium.

Even if the ban is lifted, a nuclear power plant could still take more than 10 years to develop given the rigorous permitting process. And construction would be expensive, which would threaten to drive up electricity rates to pay for it. That is of particular concern to the state’s manufacturing sector, which uses large amounts of electricity in their production processes.

The bill requires state officials to review the state’s permitting process to ensure costs and “environmental consequences” are taken into account. That was enough for Fitzgerald to be “neutral” on the bill.

The Kentucky Coal Association is also neutral, although president Tyler White said they were not happy with the bill.

“We think there are more realistic policies that we should be pursuing in Frankfort than nuclear,” he said.



Kentucky Regulators, Industry Reps Privately Rewrote Coal Ash Rules

By Erica Peterson

Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet has finalized a controversial plan to let the state’s utilities virtually self-regulate the storing of hazardous coal ash near power plants.

As details about the plan emerged over the past few weeks, Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely defended the rules and the process, saying it included “full public participation.”

But documents obtained by WFPL News show the process was far from public and instead included more than a year of backroom meetings — under both former Gov. Steve Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin — with representatives of the utility industry. During that time, documents show the regulations were significantly revised and weakened.

When regulators began meeting with representatives of the utility industry in September 2015, the regulations they had drafted (left) were extensive. By the time they submitted the drafts to the Legislative Research Commission in October 2016 (right), the regulations were weakened.

Environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, who has spent more than 44 years working in the state, and oftentimes on workgroups with members of industry and regulators to craft regulations, said to his knowledge, such one-sided input from industry is unprecedented in recent years.

“I think it’s unconscionable, and I think it does not reflect well on how little value [the regulators] place on public involvement in the development of regulations that are intended to protect the public,” FitzGerald said.

Representatives from the Energy and Environment Cabinet declined an interview request. In response to emailed questions, spokesman John Mura defended the cabinet’s regulatory process.

“As a part of the pre-KRS 13A deliberative process of regulation development, it is common for the state to informally discuss regulatory matters with the regulated sector that are directly impacted by those regulations,” Mura wrote.

He also pointed to a public comment period and a public hearing held in November 2016. After public comments were received, the agency made minor changes to the rule.

Dangers of Coal Ash

Coal ash — also called “coal combustion residuals,” or CCR — is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity. It’s often stored in dry landfills or wet ponds, or recycled into products like concrete or wall boards.

But it also contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. And environmental advocates say that’s why it’s so important there’s adequate state and federal oversight over coal ash disposal.

“Coal ash is a toxic substance that if handled incorrectly can take human lives, can make people sick, can ruin the environment, lakes, rivers, streams, permanently,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans.

In the past decade, there have been two high-profile instances — in Kingston, Tennesee and Eden, North Carolina — where large-scale coal ash spills have contaminated miles of rivers and land. But there have also been numerous other cases where there have been smaller amounts of pollution, where coal ash has caused air problems or has leached chemicals into groundwater.

Kentucky Division of Waste Management geologist Todd Hendricks mentioned a few of those instances in public comments he made about the cabinet’s proposed coal ash rule:

“Analysis of groundwater and leachate from CCR units in Kentucky has shown elevated levels of heavy metals, sulfate, boron, and other contaminants. One facility is conducting groundwater corrective action for contamination of karst springs with arsenic leaching from an inactive surface impoundment. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated groundwater per day are captured and pumped to the active surface impoundment for dilution and discharge through a permitted outfall. At another facility, state laboratory analysis of one recent sample of fluid (presumably leachate) flowing from the toe of a closed CCR landfill showed 9.81 mg/L of arsenic, which is 981 times the maximum contaminant level (MCL).”

Coal ash wasn’t regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency until 2015. But with the publication of the first-ever federal coal ash rules in the Federal Register, the EPA set out new standards designed to be incorporated into states’ existing regulatory framework.

And that’s when the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet began working on the state’s version of the regulations.

Emails Show Industry-State Meetings

By its own admission, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management spent more than 1,600 hours working on the regulation in 2015, under former governor Steve Beshear.

On Sept. 3, 2015, regulators sat down with representatives from Kentucky’s utility industry. They screened a PowerPoint presentation on the current draft version of the rules. And on the 12th slide, regulators told the utility representatives that their facilities would no longer be able to qualify for a program called a “permit-by-rule” for coal ash sites. Instead, they would have to stop accepting coal ash into their landfills and ponds by Oct. 19, 2015, or get a permit for disposal.

That wasn’t the last meeting between regulators and industry representatives to discuss the coal ash rules. Emails obtained through an open records request show they met in person at least three more times — in October 2015, and April and June 2016.

State regulators shared drafts of the regulations with Tom Shaw, the environmental director of Big Rivers Electric Corporation, and Jack Bender, the attorney representing the Utility Information Exchange of Kentucky, an industry group. And both men sent regulators UIEK’s comments on the proposals multiple times, months before the agency took comments from the public.

Bender declined a request for additional comment, and Shaw didn’t respond to a voicemail message.

When regulators went into that meeting on Sept. 3, 2015, the draft CCR rules were extensive. They covered groundwater monitoring, inspections, technical specifications for recycling coal ash and plans for closing facilities.

But by the time the draft regulations were released to the public in October 2016, they didn’t contain any of those specifics. And the regulations proposed regulating the electric utilities with a “permit-by-rule” — the very mechanism that the state declared it would not use during that September meeting.

Oversight Steps for Coal Ash Removed

In the proposal released to the public in October, electric utilities wouldn’t have to apply with the state for a permit to build a landfill or pond for coal ash. Instead, the state determined the utilities would have a “permit-by-rule” and could begin constructing coal ash units without prior permitting or review by state regulators.

Right now, utilities building coal ash units need a permit from the Kentucky Division of Waste Management. The process sometimes takes years and involves professional engineers, geologists and environmental technicians. Often permits are also needed from the Kentucky Division of Water.

Under the new proposal, those wouldn’t be necessary.

The state’s approach has been modified somewhat in the final version to a “registered permit-by-rule.” This means utilities will have to register before they begin construction of landfills or ponds, but there will still not be a rigorous permitting process.

“It’s the Wild West, basically,” FitzGerald said. “You get to characterize [the project] on your own, if you do at all, you get to manage it at the location you decide, you get to control the design, the construction, the operation, the closure, the post-closure. And the only time the state is going to become involved is after you screw up. If they find out about it.”

FitzGerald said skipping a rigorous permit review process — where the utility and regulators work together to design the project — could pose myriad problems.

If groundwater monitors aren’t put in the correct locations, they might not detect water pollution. Sensitive ecological or historical sites — like Wentworth Cave on Louisville Gas and Electric’s Trimble County property — could be buried under coal ash forever.

Or, in the most extreme cases, an engineering error could lead to structural flaws in a project and result in a catastrophic coal ash spill.

Cabinet spokesman Mura wrote in an email that the state’s end product is an attempt to comply with the federal rules.

“It was the Obama EPA, after a lengthy regulation development process, that promulgated an industry self-implementing program with no permitting program and with the public/state involvement process done via posting of information on industry website(s),” Mura said.

The EPA’s rules were self-implementing but intended to be incorporated into a state’s existing framework. More recently, Congress approved the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which directs states to work the new federal standards into existing permitting programs.

Legal Challenges Possible

It’s not illegal for regulators to consult with industry representatives before a draft regulation is released for public comment.

Instead, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet routinely seeks input from so-called stakeholders early in the process. But usually that input includes people on different sides of the issue — not just industry representatives but also people from environmental groups, landowners and others with a stake in how the regulations play out,

FitzGerald said that kind of approach — where all sides are engaged early on in the process — ensures that when the regulations are released for public comment, multiple perspectives have been taken into account.

“It is far preferable and I think much more productive and you get a much more responsible work product when you have input from all of the stakeholders,” he said. “And yet in this case, the input came solely from the regulated industry. And the result was a serial weakening of a responsible approach into one that I think is the most irresponsible approach I have seen in my 44 years of working on these issues on behalf of the public.”

Before the rule is finalized, it will need approval from two legislative committees. FitzGerald said if it wins approval, he might consider seeking judicial review.


Rhino’s new Kentucky steam coal mine to start shipments soon: official



Louisville, Kentucky (Platts)–16Jun2014/407 pm EDT/2007 GMT

Rhino Resource Partners soon will make its first shipment of high-sulfur steam coal from the new Pennyrile underground mine in Western Kentucky to Louisville Gas & Electric, a Rhino official said Monday.
Pennyrile, also known as Riveredge, is located near the Green River in McLean County. Initial production began in May.

Scott Morris, vice president of external reporting and investor relations for Lexington, Kentucky-based Rhino, said in an email the original sales contract with LG&E calls for the coal to be barged to “various” power plants operated by the PPL Corp. subsidiary. A sister utility, Kentucky Utilities, also is owned by PPL.

“The Pennyrile mine is expected to make its first shipment in the next few weeks,” Morris said. “We expect the majority of shipments to be via barge from this mine.”
LG&E operates several power plants that are scrubbed to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury. Both LG&E and KU traditionally have burned large amounts of high-sulfur IB coal.
Rhino has a five-year contract to supply 800,000 st of coal annually to LG&E.  If fully developed, the mine has the capability of expanding to 2 million st a year.

Rhino is receiving “a lot of interest in coal from this mine, and we have test shipments to interested customers scheduled for later this year,” Morris said. He did not identify those potential customers.
Nevertheless, Morris said his company believes “these test shipments have a high probability of leading to additional long-term sales contracts.”
He added, however, Rhino will only enter into contracts “at acceptable prices.”

Rhino is forecasting coal production and sales of about 3.75 million st in 2014, flat compared to last year. Total coal output and sales fell by 21% in 2013 compared with 2012 when the company produced and sold about 4.6 million st.

In Ohio’s Northern Appalachian coalfield, Rhino is developing its first underground steam coal mine there to also serve the US electric utility market.
The new Rock Camp No. 1 mine is not expected to begin production until July 2015. It is targeted to produce about 40,000 st a month.

–Bob Matyi,
–Edited by Derek Sands,



Obama Falls Short in Blunting Mountaintop Removal

By ERIC PIANIN, The Fiscal Times

July 11, 2013

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama pledged to rein in the coal industry’s efficient but destructive practice of mining huge seams of coal by “simply blowing the tops off mountains” and dumping the debris into valleys and streams below.

Over the past several decades,  coal companies have destroyed forests, brought down more than 500 mountains, polluted water, jeopardized public health and disrupted scores of communities through so-called mountain top removal.  Environmentalists who have studied the geological carnage left by all this blasting and earth removal refer to it as “surface mining on steroids.”

Today’s environmental cause célèbre is the growing  opposition to the energy industry’s highly destructive horizontal drilling and fracking for natural gas – the subject of  activist Josh Fox’s documentary “Gasland II” that made its debut on HBO Monday night.


But the damage done by mountaintop removal to the topography and ecology of Appalachia – which literally relegates once majestic mountain peaks to flat, sterile moonscapes – has led to many protests over the years and hundreds of lawsuits.

“The stated goal of the Clean Water Act is to protect the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the water of the United States,” Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, an environmental watchdog group, once testified. “It does not take a PhD in biology to see that blowing up the mountains and forests is bad for the environment.”

Industry officials say mountaintop removal mining gathers coal that wouldn’t be cost effective to mine through traditional underground methods. They say mountaintop removal provides jobs in some of America’s poorest areas, and that mining companies rebuild the hills or create areas where new highways, shopping centers, golf courses or airports can be built.

Environmentalists once had high hopes the Obama administration would sharply curb or stop mountaintop removal.  But administration victories have been few and far between.

And environmental groups that have battled the coal industry’s worst mining and reclamation practices for years are dubious Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency can do much more than slow the issuance of surface mining permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies.

The states and the Army Corps were granted authority to issue mining permits under two sections of the Clean Water Act.  Critics say they have been too cozy with the mining industry for decades and are lax in their review of permit applications.

“The Obama administration has done some good things and taken some important small steps forward, but they fall far short of what we think he promised – which was to do whatever was needed to protect communities and people from the adverse effects of mountaintop removal,” said Jennifer Chavez, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice. “What is needed is to stop the practice entirely.”

One of the administration’s few big victories came in April when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the EPA’s right to veto a permit granted by the Army Corps for the Spruce Mine, a notorious project that would have allowed Arch Coal to destroy 3,000 acres of mountaintops and let toxic waste flow into six miles of pristine mountain streams in West Virginia.  Lovett hailed the decision and declared: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has literally overseen the destruction of Central Appalachia, and EPA oversight is needed to stop it.” 

The mining industry and its allies have effectively blocked the crux of the administration’s anti-mountaintop removal initiatives – a series of memoranda announced in June 2009 that give guidance on how to reduce the adverse environmental impact of mountain top removal in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The idea was to force the Army Corps and state officials to give added weight to scientific evidence – including the effects of the debris or “valley fill” on downstream aquatic life — before granting permits.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House environmental council, said at the time that strict safeguards in the agreement made good on Obama’s pledge to limit the damage from mountaintop-removal mining while providing coal for the nation’s utilities. The coal industry successfully challenged the new policies in federal court, and that ruling is on appeal before the federal appellate court in the District of Columbia. Even if the Obama administration prevails, many believe the long-term impact of those rules could be modest.

“There are still scores of mines going forward that were either recently issued permits or just continuing operations, and many miles of streams still being buried,” noted Chavez of Earthjustice.

So if the Obama administration can’t stop mountaintop removal, who or what can?

Possibly, a bad economy and dramatic changes underway in the energy industry. The domestic market for coal to produce electricity has been shrinking for years, a victim of new clean air rules and other market forces.

Many utility companies have shifted from carbon spewing boilers to clean-burning natural gas facilities to take advantage of the cheaper cost of gas at the time and to prepare for the day when coal-fired power plants are phased out.

Things could get a lot worse for the coal industry if Obama prevails in implementing his recently announced climate-change agenda, which calls for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. That approach would be partly achieved by cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Energy analysts say the new rules, combined with environmental standards now being implemented, could push about a third of the U.S. coal fired fleet into retirement, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year, U.S. utilities burned 825 million tons of coal, down sharply from the one billion tons of coal burned in 2007.

Some of the nation’s largest coal companies have reported sharply declining profits and a few have filed for bankruptcy. Just last month, West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice, who made his fortune in coal and agriculture, acknowledged that his coal operations in Appalachia are struggling. Business owners have filed at least nine lawsuits since late 2011 claiming they are not being paid for work at Justice’s mines.

“The coal business is terrible, it’s just terrible and we’re doing everything in our power to stay open and keep people working,” Justice told the Associated Press.  “We’re one of the few [companies] that are even still working, trying to employ people and pay taxes.”

Some industry officials blame overly zealous government regulators including the EPA for their problems. In congressional testimony in March, Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, complained that the increasingly challenging and time-consuming permit process is hurting many companies and driving away potential investors.

“While the United States has one of the world’s greatest mineral repositories, our ability to get these minerals into the supply chain to help meet more of America’s needs is threatened,” he said. “The U.S. has one of the longest permitting processes in the world for mining projects.” 

The coal industry is now increasing its exports to China, India and Europe.

Sen. Joseph Manchin, D-W.Va., a former governor who has strongly supported the coal industry and its practices, warned this week that Obama’s global warming initiative “stops coal production as we know it, whether it’s on top or underneath the mountain.”

“I don’t think it’s a sound policy for our nation,” Manchin told The Fiscal Times.  “We all agree we have to use coal in our portfolio up to 2040. That’s making it much more costly and economically almost impossible for anyone to build a new coal fired plant or upgrade an existing coal fired power plant.”