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Best Of 2017: Environment Reporter Erica Peterson On Coal Ash, Chemicals And Solar Energy

louisville coal

This year, WFPL Environment Reporter Erica Peterson covered everything from Kentucky coal's continuing decline to a controversial proposal to modify a city air permit for a Rubbertown company. She was promoted to Assignment Editor this fall, but here are some of her favorite stories of 2017.

As State Loosens Oversight, Coal Ash Contaminates Central Kentucky Waterway

This is one of several stories I did about coal ash in Kentucky this year. (Others include a look at the behind-the-scenes attempts to weaken state regulations, coverage of selenium pollution near a coal ash site and extensive pollution near a Western Kentucky power plant.) For years, Kentucky has relied on electricity from coal, and the ash left behind is causing pollution issues all over the state. Now, as coal plants begin shutting down or transitioning to natural gas, a major issue is becoming how to handle the toxic ash they leave behind.

A Coal Company Is Planning A Major Solar Project On A Former Kentucky Strip Mine

This story about a coal company partnering with a renewable energy company to explore placing solar panels on a former mountaintop removal mine surprised me — for many reasons. If this project gets off the ground, it could be a game changer for the million or so acres of mined land in Appalachia. It also sparked an interesting conversation about how coal companies can continue to profit from land once the coal is gone, and how these same coal companies could become proponents of incentivizing renewable energy in Kentucky.

Advocates Warn Bill Could Mean End Of Residential Solar In Kentucky

Speaking of renewable energy, this story about a bill that would have changed how the utility companies reimburse for rooftop solar is being replicated across the country. This particular measure failed in Kentucky, but Indiana succeeded in rolling back some of their net metering laws. And as utility companies grapple with declining demand for electricity, similar laws designed to make solar panel owners pay more for grid maintenance could become more common.

Did You Live In The Ohio Valley From 1991 To 2013? You’ve Likely Been Exposed To PFOA

This was a simple story about a study that was done on the presence of a chemical called PFOA in the bloodstream of Ohio Valley residents. It’s also a reminder of how long the toxic chemicals in the environment stick around — both in the earth and in our bodies.

Congress Set To Overturn Obama-Era Surface Mining Regulations

This was one of the first major environmental moves by the Republican Congress during Donald Trump’s presidency this year, overturning a rule from President Barack Obama’s administration on coal mining near streams in Appalachia. The rule was panned by the coal industry for years, and had barely gone into effect when it was overturned using the Congressional Review Act.