In front of an overflow crowd Wednesday afternoon, the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee passed to the House floor a bill clarifying that eminent domain can’t be used for natural gas liquids pipelines.
Eleven members voted in favor of House Bill 31. Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, was the sole “no” vote, and three legislators passed on voting.
The bill was formulated in response to landowners’ concerns that the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline project could secure easements to bury the pipeline under their land despite their opposition.
Pipeline officials have said they believe the project currently has eminent domain power, though they’ve said it would only be used as a last resort if re-routing around land owned by opponents isn’t feasible.
The Bluegrass Pipeline project issued a statement after the meeting saying that, “We believe that current federal and state laws are more than adequate in terms of oversight and regulation of both the construction and operation … and no new legislation is needed.”
Some landowners have said land agents have been using the threat of eminent domain to pressure them and their neighbors into signing easements.
The bill, which amends an existing law, stipulates that the definitions of “oil and gas” and “oil and gas products” do not encompass natural gas liquids, including ethane, propane, butane and others. The liquids are byproducts of the natural gas mining process.
“We are not alone in making that distinction,” between natural gas liquids and other products, said Tom FitzGerald, the pipeline’s leading legal opponent.
“And it is not an arbitrary distinction at all in terms of the risks posed, and in terms of the value to the public.”
Legislators speaking in favor of the bill — including Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who is sponsoring it — stressed that they don’t intend to stop the pipeline altogether but only want to restrict it from going through the land of residents who don’t want it.
“The most overriding factor is that the statutes have never contemplated natural gas liquids,” Tilley said, saying they weren’t around when the eminent domain statute was formed decades ago. “We have a new player in the game essentially … and there’s also much heavier risk involved with them.”
It’s unclear if the bill passes the House and Senate that the Bluegrass Pipeline would be able to find a route around all those opposed. Representatives have said they have more than half the easements required to cross Kentucky.
Though no opponents of the bill joined the discussion, about 30 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America wore orange shirts among the more than 100 people sitting and standing in the Capitol Annex meeting room. Bill Hill, a 25-year union member, said they were from Laborers’ Local No. 189 to support the temporary jobs the pipeline could bring to the state.
The union has brought members to previous meetings. Mark Isaacs, business manager for Local 189, confirmed for The State Journal weeks ago that the union does pay members to attend such meetings. He said it’s a way to reimburse them for travel expenses.
The Bluegrass Pipeline, a joint venture between Boardwalk Pipeline Partners and Williams, intends to transport natural gas liquids from mining regions in the Northeast to the Gulf Coast. The roughly 1,100-mile project will require some 200 miles of new construction in Kentucky, including in Franklin County.