Gov. Steve Beshear’s son, attorney Andrew Beshear, is representing a company working to build a controversial natural gas liquids pipeline through Kentucky.
Andrew Beshear visited the state Public Service Commission with pipeline representatives in April.
When asked about a possible conflict of interest, Kerri Richardson, communications director for the governor’s office, wrote in an email that the law firm Stites & Harbison, by which Andrew Beshear is employed, has represented the company for more than a decade.
“We don’t see any issues with conflict of interest,” Richardson wrote. “As a large legal firm, Stites & Harbison represents clients who sometimes have adverse interests to the Commonwealth.”
The governor also worked for Stites & Harbison until he was elected in 2007.
The pipeline issue has roiled many landowners and led Franklin County to pass a resolution last week opposing the pipeline coming through the county.
Landowners are pushing to place the issue on the agenda for the August special session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which was called to deal with legislative redistricting.
In response, the governor recently issued a statement saying “there appears to be no need” to take up the issue in August, adding “there are a number of issues to be resolved before any definitive action can be taken by the Bluegrass Pipeline owners.”
Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners have joined to construct the roughly 1,100-mile pipeline, which would transport by-products of natural gas mining from regions northeast of Kentucky to the Gulf Coast.
Andrew Beshear, who works in the Louisville office of Stites & Harbison, emailed The State Journal a statement Wednesday evening.
“Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, through its Owensboro subsidiary Texas Gas — a company that employs hundreds of Kentuckians — has been a firm client since 1995, 10 years before I joined the firm,” Andrew Beshear wrote.
“Boardwalk Pipeline Partners is a part of this joint venture project that is regulated by federal law, and not the Commonwealth or the (Public Service Commission).
“The Supreme Court of Kentucky has issued rules governing conflicts of interest for lawyers,” the governor’s son continued. “I am proud of how the lawyers in our firm carefully and vigilantly follow these rules.
“Neither I nor the firm have lobbied for this project. We were simply hired through a longtime client to provide legal services. Those services have been performed by more than a dozen lawyers.”
This isn’t the first time a possible conflict of interest has emerged involving Andrew Beshear.
In 2011, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the governor’s son was representing an Indian company preparing to collect $20 million in tax breaks from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, a cabinet the governor oversees.
Andrew Melnykovych, spokesman for the Public Service Commission, confirmed that Andrew Beshear and company representatives visited with the organization April 2 for an informational meeting.
He said that meeting centered largely on Boardwalk’s repurposing of a roughly 600-mile section of a natural gas pipeline that runs from Hardinsburg to the Gulf Coast to instead carry the natural gas liquids — a flammable and toxic mix of chemicals that would be primarily used to create plastics.
“They basically said that no current (Kentucky) customers would lose (natural gas) services and none of the current contracts that they have to supply utilities in Kentucky would be affected,” Melnykovych said.
A representative of Williams has suggested the pipeline will be safer than other methods of transportation and will reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil for plastics production.
The governor wrote that the unresolved issues keeping the pipeline off the special session agenda include “whether the company can use ‘eminent domain’ to acquire right-of-way.”
He also wrote that, “Such action would likely add several days to the special session, at a cost of over $60,000 a day to Kentucky taxpayers.
“If we find that there is a need for state government to change its role in this process to increase protections for our landowners or for the protection of our environment,” the governor continued, “we will have adequate time to take any necessary action in the regular session that begins in January 2014.”
A Williams representative said the company hopes to submit a proposed route for the pipeline to the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit around January 2014 and have the pipeline finished by the end of 2015.
Representatives for Williams have stated they believe they have the power to use eminent domain to seize land from landowners as a last resort. Whether they actually have such power is hotly debated.
Chris Schimmoeller, president of Envision Franklin County and a strong opponent of the pipeline, disagreed with the governor’s statement. She said the issue is urgent because Willliams is currently
seeking survey permissions.
She said legislators should take up the issue now.
“It shouldn’t take several days,” Schimmoeller said. “It should be fairly straightforward.”
A Williams representative previously told Franklin County Fiscal Court that the company will likely know the vast majority of its proposed route by August.
Schimmoeller said opponents will visit the Capitol 3 p.m. Aug. 7 — the same day Williams plans a 5 p.m. open house at the Paul Sawyier Public Library — to deliver a petition for the governor to place the issue on the special session.
The petition, which currently has more than 1,400 online signatures on MoveOn.org, requests the governor and General Assembly increase regulation of natural gas liquids pipelines and officially state that companies seeking to build such pipelines don’t have the power of eminent domain.
Envision is also hosting an informational meeting for the community 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Alton Christian Church in Lawrenceburg.