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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – A bill that would give state oversight to the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline heads before a House committee today.
Oil and gas pipelines would need approval from the Kentucky Public Service Commission before condemning land under House Bill 31, which also requires pipeline projects to use eminent domain only after a detailed environmental review and public input.
The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the measure – sponsored by three Democrats and two Republicans – at its noon meeting.
Republican Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, one of the bill's sponsors, told WDRB last fall that he was concerned about a lack of state regulation over the pipeline, which would have some federal oversight from the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
"Bluegrass is unregulated," he said. "There's nothing in our state statute that covers a non (regulated) utility pipeline."
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is a co-sponsor of similar legislation in the Senate and has raised concerns for months about the proposed pipeline cutting through his district. In particular, Higdon wants to safeguard the rights of property owners.
Higdon said in an interview Tuesday that he is "guardedly optimistic" that a condemnation bill will pass during the current session of the General Assembly.
"I got the lobbyist report the other day. The Bluegrass Pipeline has nine paid lobbyists working this issue," he said. "In this building it's an art form to kill bills. … It's open season and a lot of bills are, you know, simply killed. There's a lot of people here that that's their living – to kill legislation."
Boardwalk Pipeline Partners has spent $37,750 on lobbying since last September and has nine active lobbyists, according to Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission records. Williams spent $3,300 in January and has nine current lobbyists, the records show.
Among the companies' lobbyists are Andrew "Skipper" Martin, who served as chief of staff to former Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton.
For example, Higdon noted that last week's rupture likely would have had a different outcome if it had been carrying natural gas liquids, or hydrocarbons separated from natural gas during hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" operations.
"That liquid would have flowed for two or three hours and you would have had this massive oil slick," Higdon said. "I don't think you would have had the explosion and fire but … it would have looked like a tanker broke up somewhere in Central Kentucky."
Kentucky law allows condemnation when land is taken for a "public use" -- ownership by state or other government entities, as well as by public utilities or "common carriers" that transport oil or natural gas. Roads, railroads and dams are examples of projects for which state law permits eminent domain.
Even when property is condemned, landowners receive payments based on the value of the property.