Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First Bill on Bluegrass Pipeline Misses Target

Just for shits and giggles, we'll assume for the moment that Rep. John Tilley is just incompetent, rather than deliberately trying to fool the public with a bill that would do nothing to protect Kentucky landowners and Bluegrass industries from the lethal harm of toxic spills from the pipeline.

Greg Kocher at the Herald:

A Western Kentucky lawmaker pre-filed a bill Monday to clarify the use of eminent domain in cases such as the Bluegrass Pipeline, but an environmental lawyer expressed reservations about the proposed legislation in a letter to its sponsor.

The Bluegrass Pipeline would ship natural gas liquids from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Texas and Louisiana. The planned route in Kentucky includes 13 counties, from Bracken in the northeast to an existing connection in Breckinridge.

Affected landowners have wondered whether eminent domain, the power to take private property for a public use, applies. This month, State Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters told an interim legislative committee that his staff attorneys think the companies proposing to build the Bluegrass Pipeline cannot invoke eminent domain to gain easements.

State Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said in a statement his bill specifies that any proposed oil and gas pipelines are available for "public use as a common carrier" for similar products, which is a more stringent guideline when compared to the current law that requires these pipelines only be of a "public service" when it comes to eminent domain.

Under Tilley's bill, the Kentucky Public Service Commission would play a "gatekeeper" role if those constructing pipelines cannot reach agreement with private landowners.
 That would be the same PSC that consistently rolls over for every greedy private utility in the Commonwealth. No thanks, Tilley.

But in a letter to Tilley posted Monday on the website of the Kentucky Resources Council, environmental lawyer Tom FitzGerald noted three problems with the bill as proposed.

First, FitzGerald wrote: "The Public Service Commission jurisdiction extends to regulated public utilities, and these interstate pipelines are not regulated utilities. The commission is being asked to grant or withhold the power of condemnation, which is a legislative and constitutional function and should not be delegated to the executive branch."

Second, he wrote: "The criteria and process for PSC review are much less robust than would be accorded to a natural gas pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and do not appear to require a full quasi-adjudicative hearing as would be provided in a Certificate of Need and Public Convenience case, including the right of formal intervention, cross-examination of witnesses, and discovery."

Third, "the review criteria are unrelated to the decision to allow or disallow condemnation powers," FitzGerald wrote.


"The bill in effect 'trades' some level of review (but no authority to prevent the project even if it isn't found to be in the public interest) for a broad grant of condemnation powers to interstate pipelines carrying natural gas liquids, that they currently do not have under state law." FitzGerald wrote. "I don't believe that the extension of condemnation powers to non-utility, private companies, whether they are common carriers or not, is in the best interests of Kentucky landowners."
Eminent domain and pipeline regulation are complex issues in which special interests like the Bluegrass Pipeline companies can easily hide loopholes and exceptions that give them free rein to steal land for a pipeline that can poison the entire region.

Only a flat ban on the project from the legislature and governor will protect the Commonwealth.

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