environment

Kentucky LRC

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.

Bluegrass Pipeline Project Delayed a Year

Feb 20, 2014
Kentucky LRC

One of the companies wanting to build a controversial pipeline to transport natural gas liquids across Kentucky says the project has been delayed up to a year.

In year-end 2013 financial results, Williams Co. President and CEO Alan Armstrong said the in-service target of the Bluegrass Pipeline project was being shifted to mid to late 2016 "to better align with the needs of producers."

The 500-mile pipeline, being built by Williams Co. of Tulsa, OK and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Houston, would carry liquids through northern and central Kentucky.

A group of Catholic nuns successfully redirected the route of the pipeline off their land last year and other religious leaders joined them to oppose the project, delivering thousands of signatures to Governor Beshear's office in November.

On Wednesday, Beshear endorsed legislation that would protect landowners from having their land seized for the project. That bill received its first committee hearing in Frankfort Wednesday. It would require private non-utility companies like those responsible for the Bluegrass Pipeline to obtain consent from a landowner before building.

A Western Kentucky coal miner is alleging several counts of workplace discrimination, after he reported safety problems at his job and was fired.

Four cases against Ken American Resources were filed last week.

Patrick Shemwell worked at a coal plant operated by Ken American in Muhlenberg County. He initially filed six discrimination complaints against his employer, saying he was retaliated against and ultimately fired for reporting safety problems at the prep plant.

The company settled, and Shemwell got his job back.

But according to the lawsuits filed last week, almost immediately, more problems arose. He reported unsafe conditions, was reassigned to equipment on which he had no training, received a death threat, and ultimately was fired again.

Since 1977, the federal Mine Safety and Health Act has protected miners from discrimination for reporting safety issues.

“My guess is that Patrick has filed more discrimination cases under that law than any other miner in the country during that time period," says Shemwell's lawyer, Tony Oppegard.

President Obama said Tuesday that he has told the Environmental Protection Agency to work with the Department of Transportation on a second round of regulations to improve the fuel efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The goal: reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they contribute to the environment.

Clean-up is continuing nearly two weeks after a tanker truck spilled thousands of gallons of fuel in Pulaski County, Kentucky.  

The fuel has also gotten into a local cave system.

An 8,000 gallon fuel spill would cause problems no matter the location. But the accident on January 30 was in the midst of the Sloans Valley cave system near Somerset, and early tests showed that at least some of the fuel entered the cave.

Kevin Strohmeier is an emergency response coordinator with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. He says since Friday, air tests for volatile organic compounds at cave entrances have been negative. This could mean that all of the fuel that got into the cave has volatilized and evaporated, but Strohmeier says there are still environmental concerns at the spill site.

"I think probably just making sure that we try to maintain control of the source and if we can remove it, we do that," he said. "If we can’t remove it, we monitor it and recover as much of it as possible.

Strohmeier says he doesn’t yet know if there was any permanent damage done to the cave system by the spill.

Caves are very sensitive environments, and wildlife officials have also been monitoring the local bat population.

"Agenda 21" Bill Headed to Full Kentucky Senate

Feb 7, 2014
Kentucky LRC

A bill aimed at preventing a proposal by the United Nations to regulate environmental issues has cleared a Kentucky Senate committee.

Senate Bill 31, filed by Northern Kentucky Sen. John Schikel, seeks to prevent the state from adopting any environmental provisions set forth by a U.N. emissions-reduction plan known as “Agenda 21.”

The plan is renowned in conspiracy circles as a scheme by the world governing body to usurp private property, but Schickel says his bill is far from conspiracy theory.

“I don’t look at it as a threat, but, we believe, and I believe, and many of my constituents believe that United States officials, Kentucky officials and local officials should be making our environmental laws and making those decisions and not international organizations," Schikel said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee.

Kentucky’s coal industry shed more than 2,300 jobs last year, according to the latest numbers from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Most of those losses were in eastern Kentucky .

The final quarterly coal report from the Energy and Environment cabinet wraps up a dismal year for the industry. And for Eastern Kentucky, this marks the 10th straight quarter of declining coal employment.

Since 2007, Eastern Kentucky has lost more than 6,000 coal jobs, just under half. Coal production has dropped even more drastically. At the same time, production and employment have grown modestly in the western portion of the commonwealth.

A number of factors are behind the decline, including pollution controls that allow plants to burn higher sulfur coal, like that mined in western Kentucky and Illinois.

The State Department says that production of Canadian tar-sand crude, which has a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than other types of oil, is unlikely to be increased if the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead — and therefore would do little to contribute to climate change.

Kentucky’s third annual sandhill crane hunting season wrapped up Sunday, and Fish and Wildlife officials are calling it a success.

The most recent numbers show 87 birds were killed in this year’s sandhill crane hunting season, mostly in Barren County. That’s slightly lower than last year, when 92 birds were killed. But both years, the actual hunt fell far below the quota of 400 birds the Department of Fish and Wildlife set.

Wildlife Biologist John Brunjes says nearly 400 people got permits to hunt sandhill cranes this year, but many weren’t successful.

"They’re an extremely difficult bird to hunt, they’re extremely wary," Brujes said. "It’s a challenge. The biggest limiting factor is there are only a few places where they occur in the state."

When Kentucky first began allowing sandhill crane hunting in 2011, it was controversial. Opponents argued the birds aren’t overpopulated or damaging the environment, and should be protected.

This year, Brunjes says there were about 68,000 birds in the sandhill crane’s eastern population. If that number ever fell below 30,000, that would trigger an automatic halt to the hunting season.

While many of us may prefer to never again see temperatures drop below zero like they did earlier this week across the country, the deep freeze is putting warm smiles on the faces of many entomologists.

That's because it may have been cold enough in some areas to freeze and kill some damaging invasive species of insects, including the tree-killing emerald ash borer.

A statewide religious organization is urging Kentucky government to slow down and gather more information on the potential impacts of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline.

Kentucky Council of Churches Director Marian McClure Taylor says her group wants a more cautious approach taken on the Bluegrass Pipeline, which would connect natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia with export centers on the Gulf Coast.

“We don’t want accidents to happen, if they can be prevented,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to be in a situation later where we say you mean you didn’t have your best engineers take a look at the idea of how you were going to re-purpose those pipelines or how they’re going to be constructed or where the pressure stations are going to be.”

One proposed path of the pipeline would extend through northern Kentucky southward into Nelson, Larue, Hardin, Meade and Breckenridge counties.

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.

Tennessee Valley Authority

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. 

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.

Tennessee Valley Authority

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."

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