Environment

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office has moved to intervene in the fight over a natural gas pipeline in Bullitt County that would cut through Bernheim Research Forest and Arboretum.

Attorney General Andy Beshear wants greater scrutiny over the 12-mile-long project through northern Bullitt County following the explosion of an interstate transmission line in Lincoln County earlier this month that killed one person and injured six others.

“Kentuckians deserve to know that pipelines running across their property comply with the law and are as safe as possible,” Beshear said.

Louisville Gas and Electric Spokeswoman Chris Whelan said Beshear was involved in the original rate case and isn’t surprised he’d like to intervene now.

“We run a very safe pipeline. We do a lot to ensure for safety and our safety practices, that’s one of our number one priorities,” she said.

A few weeks ago, Bernheim filed a complaint with utility regulators alleging Louisville Gas and Electric bypassed the typical process for a new natural gas pipeline and hid information from the public.

On Friday, Beshear announced his Office of Rate Intervention would like to not just intervene, but expand the scope of the complaint case before the state’s utility regulator — the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

The motion says LG&E has willfully violated pipeline safety standards and landowners deserve to know the pipelines running across their property meet these standards.

It further argues that LG&E used its status as a monopoly to pressure landowners and others to agree to its projects.

The utility has said it’s running out of capacity on its current natural gas pipeline and needs another one to meet the needs of future economic development.

Whelan said LG&E has already acquired about 85 percent of the land needed to build the pipeline and has since began filing lawsuits against holdouts including Bernheim.

“As any utility we have a right to eminent domain. We have tried really hard to work with these landowners over a couple years now,” Whelan said.

The attorney general’s motion argues that LG&E used its website to coerce landowners to grant easements by stating that holdouts are causing a hardship for customers who want gas service.

It also says the utility already has unexplained cost overruns for the Bullitt County project. The 2016 rate case stated the pipeline would cost $27.6 million while in 2018 the utility budgeted $38.7 million for the project, according to the motion.

“These cost increases further warrant an expanded investigation of the pipeline at issue in this case,” according to the motion.

Whelan with LG&E said the project has taken a long time to complete and a tight labor market has driven up costs.

LG&E first mentioned the need for a new gas pipeline buried inside hundreds of pages of testimony in a 2016 rate case. Ordinarily, utilities apply to the Kentucky Public Service Commission for a certificate that a new project is safe, reliable and necessary.

But in this case, LG&E argued it didn’t need to apply because the project was only an extension of an existing line.

The commission decided LG&E did need the certificate, but regulators simply approved one based on the information supplied in the rate case.

Bernheim’s complaint argues if the utility had filed an application, it could have given the public additional information about the proposed pipeline. Without it, Bernheim argues LG&E failed to prove a “need” for the new pipeline, according to the complaint.

Bernheim declined to comment; representatives said they needed more time to review the attorney general’s filing.

The attorney general is entitled by statute so he will be granted intervention, said Andrew Melnykovych, Public Service Commission spokesman.

This story has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.