A legislative committee has advanced a bill to clarify Kentucky’s eminent domain laws.
If the bill becomes law it would amend Kentucky law to clarify that natural gas liquids pipelines—including the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline—aren’t eligible for eminent domain in the commonwealth.
Legal experts have disagreed as to whether the Bluegrass Pipeline could use eminent domain to obtain easements to carry the byproducts of gas drilling through Central Kentucky. The Judiciary Committee heard rushed testimony from several landowners, but none of the representatives from the laborers’ international union in attendance spoke. The group has previously voiced support for the pipeline.
Representative Johnny Bell of Glasgow spoke directly to those union members when casting his vote.
"Those of you who are up here today to protect your jobs, we all appreciate that," the Barren County Democrat said. "Your job is important to you and it’s important to us, but I feel that a person’s property rights is one of the highest rights that we have in this country, so I vote yes on that and thank you all for being here today."
Now that the bill has cleared committee, it will be up for a vote on the House floor before it goes to the Senate.
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.
The chairman of the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee says he is pre-filing legislation that seeks to make clear that Kentuckians are free from the unregulated use of eminent domain.
Hopkinsville Democrat John Tilley says the issue should be clarified in light of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline. The proposed natural gas liquids pipeline would stretch from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, and cut through an estimated 13 Kentucky counties, including Breckinridge, Hardin, Larue, Meade, and Nelson.
Some landowners in counties along the proposed pipeline route have expressed concerns that the company would seek to use eminent domain laws to seize their land.
Rep. Tilley said in a news release issued by his office that the bill he has pre-filed will “strive to maintain the proper balance between those rights and economic development when it comes to safely transporting fossil fuels.”
"I believe the state needs to paint a brighter line on how pipelines like this are built and where they can be located."
The bill would put the Public Service Commission in the role of gatekeeper if those constructing pipelines can’t reach agreement with private landowners.