Erica Peterson

Erica reports on environment and energy issues for WFPL, which run the gamut from stories about the region’s biodiversity to coal mine safety and pollution issues. In the name of journalism, she’s gone spelunking, tagged mussels and taste-tested bourbon. Erica moved to Louisville in June 2011 from Charleston, West Virginia, where she worked for the state’s public radio and television affiliate. Besides Kentucky and West Virginia, she’s lived in New Jersey, Minnesota and Illinois. She lives with her husband and son in Louisville.

The involvement of a state representative in a major coal deal in Kentucky is raising some eyebrows.  The $7 billion contract signed yesterday creates a 25-year standing order to ship 9 million tons of Kentucky coal annually to India. Pike County Representative Keith Hall was instrumental in brokering the deal—but he also has several coal-related businesses. He also sits on the board of FJS Energy—the New Jersey-based company that signed the contract. Hall says his involvement in the deal was both as a state lawmaker and a businessman.

Kentucky is number one on a list of the states with the most toxic air pollution from power plants.

The Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed the data self-reported by industries in the Toxic Release Inventory, which is managed by the federal government. The most recent data is from 2010, and that year, Kentucky’s power plants emitted more than 40 million pounds of toxic air pollution. This gives the state the dubious honor of being ranked number one in the nation.

A rally in support of coal is scheduled for this weekend in southeast Kentucky. It stemmed from a Facebook post, but now Bell County resident and business owner Joe Harris says he expects more than 20,000 people to line a county road Saturday in support of coal. Harris says the event—dubbed “Hands of Coal Across Bell County” isn’t a protest, but just a show of support for the coal industry. Coal is still a major employer in Bell County, but as reduced demand leads to layoffs, Harris says other residents and businesses are suffering.

Environmental groups have filed suit in federal court in an effort to get the Environmental Protection Agency to stiffen rules regulating air pollution. The EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution rule last summer, to crack down on several states—including Kentucky—that both send pollution across state lines and are affected by pollution from other states. That rule has been challenged by several states and industry groups, and is held up in court.

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Kentucky politicians have been lining up to praise a judge’s decision earlier this week to overturn the new way the Environmental Protection Agency has been evaluating coal mining permits. The EPA was sued by the National Mining Association and several individual states, including Kentucky. But the ruling could have few practical implications for the coal industry.

Kentucky is among 30 states that will receive federal funds to boost monitoring for a deadly bat disease.

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