A Western Kentucky lawmaker has pre-filed a bill to clarify Kentucky’s eminent domain law. The topic has been the subject of much speculation over the past few months, as a company seeks to build a natural gas liquids pipeline across Kentucky. The developers of the Bluegrass Pipeline say they believe they have the right of eminent domain under Kentucky law, but numerous others including the legal counsel of the Energy and Environment Cabinet and the Kentucky Attorney General disagree.
The bill was filed by Representative John Tilley of Hopkinsville.
From the press release:
Rep. Tilley’s bill would specify 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 his bill, the Public Service Commission (PSC) also would play a gatekeeper role if those constructing pipelines cannot reach agreement with private landowners.
“I think the PSC is the natural administrative body to handle these types of questions, given its work in regulating other utilities,” said Rep. Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. “This would enable the state to put this bill in place almost immediately.”
If this becomes law, the PSC could grant eminent domain only after it makes the request public and open to input. In addition, PSC would have to determine that the condemnation is in the public interest; that the project meets all safety, construction and operation protocols; and that the environment is protected, including groundwater resources.
Opponents of the pipeline have urged Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to address the eminent domain issue in a special session, but Beshear has said he’d rather it be taken up when the General Assembly is back in session early next year. A legislative interim committee also heard testimony on the project earlier this month.
UPDATE 5:12pm: Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council has posted a letter on his organization’s website laying out several concerns he has with Tilley’s bill. Those include leaving the power of condemnation for natural gas liquids pipelines up to the Public Service Commission, even though natural gas liquids pipelines aren’t a regulated utility. FitzGerald also said the PSC’s process for approval is much less robust than what natural gas pipelines have to go through for federal approval.
Pipeline company Williams has said it intends to begin acquiring easements for the project this fall.