KET Legislative Coverage

Day 51: Eminent Domain Rules for Pipeline Project

by Renee Shaw | 03/24/14 3:38 PM

A bill clarifying that companies building the Bluegrass Pipeline can't exercise the power of eminent domain cleared the House on Friday.

"State lawmakers have a constitutional duty to protect property owner rights," said Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) in calling for passage of his House Bill 31. The measure would prohibit commercial pipeline companies from using eminent domain to condemn private property needed for the pipeline route. The goal is to protect landowners in the path of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, which would carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) through more than a dozen central Kentucky counties.

If passed and signed by the governor, the measure would take effect retroactively to January 1 of this year. On the House floor Friday, Tilley retraced legislative intent on eminent domain rules.

Tilley insisted the legislation isn't singling out the NGL industry, but he did say the liquids pose a greater risk to public safety and the environment than do leaks of natural gas or oil.

Rep. David Floyd (R-Bardstown), the bill's primary co-sponsor, said the legislation wouldn't kill the Bluegrass Pipeline project. It simply prevents the takeover of private land and spares property owners the expense defending their rights against a multi-state corporation. Floyd commented that promises from pipeline developers of jobs, economic development, and tax revenues ring hollow to him.

Rep. Jim Gooch (D- Providence) asserted that more than private property rights are at stake. The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee co-chair said Kentucky should embrace NGL fuels for the sake of economic prosperity.

That commentary struck a nerve with fellow western Kentucky Democratic colleague Tilley, who quickly corrected what he perceived as flawed arguments by Gooch.

Rep. Suzanne Miles (R-Owensboro) unsuccessfully tried to remove the retroactivity provisions and the emergency clause from the bill via a floor amendment. She said Kentucky is sending a "do not enter" message to businesses with House Bill 31. Miles warned that Texas Gas, which employs over 200 people in Davies County, would be affected by the legislation.

Another of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Terry Mills (D-Lebanon) said hundreds of his constituents who own property in Marion, Nelson, Washington, LaRue, and surrounding counties have contacted him about the proposed pipeline. He said he cast his yes vote on their behalf.

After about an hour of debate, HB 31 passed the House 75-16. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

In response to the vote, Bluegrass Pipeline developer Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, issued a statement saying the legislation could damage future economic development opportunities for the state.

"The Bluegrass Pipeline project has long maintained that current federal and state regulations are more than adequate to provide oversight for the construction and operation of this critical energy infrastructure project," said the company’s Senior Vice President Mike McMahon. "We encourage the Kentucky Senate to consider the significant ramifications this legislation poses not only to this project but to future job-creating projects in Kentucky."

Tune into Legislative Update tonight at 11 on KET. Follow me @ReneeKET on Twitter.