Opponents of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline Thursday filed a lawsuit hoping to clarify whether eminent domain could be used for the project.
The Bluegrass Pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from drilling operations in the Northeast to processing plants on the Gulf of Mexico. For the past few months, pipeline company representatives have been approaching landowners, trying to purchase easements for the project. But while the company says it believes it has the power to condemn property if necessary, Kentucky legal experts have disagreed.
Penny Greathouse is a board member of Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain, the group that filed the lawsuit. She says the uncertainty is a problem for landowners considering whether to sign contracts with the pipeline company.
“I feel like there’s a lot of easements that have been signed because the person themselves have felt like they would rather be on the top end as opposed to on the lower end and they feel like they don’t know if [Williams] can take their property or not, so they’re just going to go ahead and sign, just to be done with it.”
By filing the lawsuit, the pipeline’s opponents are hoping to find out the court’s interpretation of the law before a landowner ends up in court over the matter. They’re hoping for a decision in January.
Kentucky’s coal production and employment both dropped during the third quarter of this year. The state’s eastern coalfields recorded the biggest loss.
From the second to third quarter of this year, Kentucky saw coal production drop 5 percent and shed 439 jobs. But the losses weren’t consistent across both ends of the state. Both production and jobs stayed nearly the same in Western Kentucky, while Eastern Kentucky recorded declines.
This report is the latest in a series that shows a negative trend in the state’s eastern coalfields. Coal mines have been shutting down or furloughing workers in record numbers…most recently, James River Coal announced it would close all of its mines in Eastern Kentucky, laying off 525 miners.
The weak demand for that region’s coal will likely continue. As Appalachian coal reserves get harder to reach, they’re more expensive to mine and new environmental regulations and inexpensive natural gas prices have prompted many utilities to switch away from burning coal.
Kentucky’s regulators are making the case to the federal government that the commonwealth should be allowed flexibility in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose rules regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants next June. In a white paper sent to the EPA last month, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet argues the agency should require states to reduce emissions by a certain percentage, rather than set across-the-board limits for power plants.
Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy John Lyons says Kentucky can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. But 97 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal, and the commonwealth should be allowed flexibility and time to make reductions.
“If you were to prescribe a rate-based approach for existing facilities that coal couldn’t meet, you would have no choice but to shut down the coal plants," Lyons said. "That simply is not reasonable nor feasible when we look at the 200,000 manufacturing jobs that we have in this state. There needs to be time for transition.”
Lyons estimates Kentucky is already on track to see significant CO2 reductions in the next several years, because several of the state’s coal-fired power plants plan to close.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission has approved a deal for an Eastern Kentucky utility to buy electricity from biomass.
The proposed biomass plant will be in Perry County, and is expected to be operating by 2017. It’ll burn wood scraps for energy, and replace some of the capacity from the coal-fired Big Sandy power plant. Big Sandy will be retired soon, in the face of tougher pollution regulations.
Usually, the commission has to decide a case based on what electricity is the least-cost reasonable option. But PSC spokesman Andrew Melnykovych says this case was different.
"The legislature directed the PSC in a bill that was passed in the last session to essentially approve power supply contracts from biomass plants. And that is what the PSC did today."
The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled its rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. Some politicians and the coal industry have criticized the rules, saying they amount to a ban on new coal-fired plants.
The plan sets an emissions limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour for large natural gas plants, and 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour for coal and smaller natural gas plants.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says climate change caused by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide poses numerous public health challenges—everything from poor air quality to an increase in the number of disease-spreading mosquitoes and ticks. She said these rules for new power plants are necessary, and won’t have the dire economic consequences industry groups predict
“We have proven time after time that setting fair, Clean Air Act standards to protect public health does not cause the sky to fall,” McCarthy said. “The economy does not crumble.”
Technologies like carbon capture and sequestration will help new coal plants comply with the standard; they’re available, but are still very expensive.