Saturday, March 22, 2014

State House passes bill to bar condemnation by natural-gas-liquid pipelines; Senate appears unlikely to go along

UPDATE, March 26: A Franklin County judge ruled yesterday, in a suit involving a Midway-area resident, that the Bluegrass Pipeline does not have the power of eminent domain. Pipeline representatives say they will appeal. A story will appear on the Messenger later today.

Bluegrass Pipeline map of proposed route
The state House passed a bill Friday to deny the power of eminent domain to pipelines carrying natural-gas liquids, including the Bluegrass Pipeline proposed through the northwestern part of the Midway ZIP code area in Woodford, Franklin and Scott counties.

However, the Senate appears unlikely to pass the bill because so little time remains in the legislative session, which is supposed to end March 31 except for reconsideration of any bills vetoed by the governor.

Senate President Robert Stivers "said any bill just now getting passed out of its first chamber faces challenges with less than 10 days left in the session," Greg Hall reports for The Courier-Journal. Passing such a major bill this late "appears to be more of a camouflaging effort than a true effort to have a discussion on policy," Stivers told Hall. As the session began, Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, questioned whether the legislature had any authority over interstate pipelines.

The Bluegrass Pipeline would run from shale-gas fields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, through Ohio and Kentucky to an existing pipeline at Hardinsburg, then reverse the flow of that line to the Gulf Coast. The Ohio portion of the pipeline has already been built without any condemnation through eminent domain, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, sponsor of the bill, said during Friday's debate.

Tilley said the Williams Companies and Boardwalk Bluegrass Partners, which are building the line, have told Bluegrass landowners that if they don't grant easements for the line through their property, the companies could use eminent domain to use their land for the route. He said the legislature never intended to give such power to gas-liquids pipelines, which serve the chemical industry and other manufacturers, not retail customers.

Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, said "It's a bill about the big guy versus the little guy," and corporations wanting to use government power to make money. "I would have no objection to that if there was a public service or public use by the citizens of Kentucky." The state Eminent Domain Act requires pipelines to be "in public service" to have condemnation power.

Tilley, right, said natural-gas liquids pose greater risks in case of leaks, and "Landowners should not be burdened with those risks, at least not through a taking" of property rights by way of official authority.

The bill's main Republican co-sponsor, Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, said the bill would not stop the pipeline; "They'll just have to deal with the landowners from an equal position."

The bill passed 75-16, but the critical vote was the House's 44-47 rejection, largely along party lines, of an amendment that would have removed sections making the bill retroactive to Jan. and effective upon signature by Gov. Steve Beshear, who has said he favors it. Tilley said the provisions are needed to keep condemnation lawsuits from being filed before the bill takes effect.

The amendment's sponsor, newly elected Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, said "Maybe there will be a rush to the courthouse," but noted that there hasn't been one yet.

In response to a question from Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, a co-sponsor of the bill, Miles said, "There's every possibility this bill could kill the Bluegrass Pipeline project" if it can't get the easements it needs. "Basically, we're saying our state's not open for business." Tilley said he wasn't trying to kill the project.

A Republican who voted for the amendment and for the bill, Rep. John "Bam" Carney of Campbellsville, said after the first vote that he would be willing to grant an easement for such a pipeline, but after seeing the effects of a recent gas-pipeline explosion at Knifley, in his district, he wants to make sure landowners have the right to keep it off their property.

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