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.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has decided not to close a coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky. The nation’s largest utility was facing congressional pressure to keep open the Paradise Fossil Plant.
In a vote Thusday, the TVA's Board of Directors decided that one of the three units at the plant in Drakesboro will continue burning coal, while the other units will be converted to natural gas.
“It’s unnecessary and tragic that the Obama administration’s actions have forced utilities to discontinue coal operations at any of these units,” U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. “I fought hard to prevent these changes and fortunately one of the units will continue to burn coal, saving hundreds of jobs."
In his statement, McConnell also vowed to continue fighting what he called the Obama administration’s anti-coal agenda that threatens the livelihood of Kentuckians.
In a meeting last month with McConnell, TVA President Bill Johnson said several factors, including the current regulatory environment, forced the utility to review the future of the Paradise Fossil Plant. McConnell responded that Muhlenberg County couldn’t take anymore hits, given the upcoming retirement of Kentucky Utilities’ Green River plant in 2016.
The nation's largest public utility has voted to close six coal-powered units in Alabama and replace two more in Kentucky with a new natural gas plant.
At a Thursday meeting, Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said increasingly stringent environmental regulations and flat power demand have made it necessary to rethink how the utility generates power.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell met with Johnson last month to seek continued operation of the coal-burning Paradise Fossil Plant in Drakesboro, Ky. One coal-fired unit will remain there.
The board also voted to close all five units at the Colbert plant in northwest Alabama and one of two remaining units at the Widow's Creek plant in northeast Alabama.
Board members from Alabama and Kentucky said the closures were difficult but necessary.
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.
Democrat Alison Grimes has joined Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in urging the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep a coal-fired generating plant operating in Muhlenberg County.
Grimes, who is running for McConnell's Senate seat, said in a statement that an upgrade would bring the Paradise Fossil Plant at Drakesboro into compliance with federal standards, while closure would have a devastating economic impact.
McConnell met with Tennessee Valley Authority President William Johnson last week to seek continued operation of the generating plant. TVA is considering whether it should add new emission controls to two coal-fired units that date back to the late 1950s, build a new generating plant powered by natural gas, or take no action.
TVA said in a statement last week that officials are "evaluating all options."
A company planning to build a natural gas pipeline in Kentucky says it has secured land-use deals in parts of nine counties along the pipeline's proposed path.
Officials with the Bluegrass Pipeline say they have reached easement agreements with private landowners in nine of the 13 counties along the proposed route.
The path will apparently bypass a Nelson County property owned by Catholic monks. A company spokesman said Tuesday that it is respecting the wishes of the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, who have refused to allow surveyors on the 2,500-acre property.
Williams Co. of Oklahoma and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Texas formed the company that is building the pipeline. The entire 500-mile route stretches through Ohio and Pennsylvania.
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."
A government watchdog group is urging Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session this fall to pass legislation to protect private landowners from companies that have said they may use eminent domain to get right of way for a controversial pipeline project.
Common Cause of Kentucky delivered a letter to Beshear's office on Wednesday.
The Bluegrass Pipeline, being built by Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Texas, would cross northern and central Kentucky.
The material to be carried by the pipeline is a liquid byproduct of the natural gas refining process that is used to make plastics, medical supplies and carpet, among other products.
Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, said the pipeline would pose a hazard risk to the state.
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.