Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bluegrass Pipeline Update

Quite a few of you have written wanting to know the latest on the Bluegrass Pipeline. Several have asked why I'm no longer updating this page. To address your first question, we are so appreciative of everyone who helped us get our bill through Kentucky's House of Representatives. Words cannot express our appreciation for the hundreds of citizens, who supported us, the organizations, and the elected officials on both sides of the political fence who joined in to uphold the rights of Kentuckians over corporations. Democrats like James Kay, Jullian Carroll and Lt. Gubernatorial candidate Sannie Overly, John Tilley, and Republicans Jimmy Higdon, and David Floyd collectively worked many hours to support the rights of Kentucky citizens over private corporations not in public service.

What may not be widely known is that while our bill was being informally discussed by senate members, it was suggested that we could get it called for a vote if we compromised. Specifically, if we were to allow language to be added that would give eminent domain rights for gas gathering lines (primarily in eastern and western parts of the state) we could get the bill voted on and possibly even passed.  Those of us involved in that discussion realized immediately that if we agreed to this compromise, we would be throwing western Kentucky farmers and eastern Kentucky families under the legislative bus to save ourselves. That was a compromise we were not willing to make.

At that point, our group discussed the situation with our legal counsel and decided formally that it was time to take the matter to the court system in search for justice for all Kentuckians. Around February and March of 2014, a group of home owners and farmers directly affected by the pipeline, with the assistance of attorney Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, formed a non-profit organization to take legal action against the Bluegrass Pipeline by filing suit in Frankfort.

In March of 2014, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd granted a summary judgment in favor of our group, Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain (KURED).  The judge stated that Bluegrass Pipeline cannot even suggest to landowners that it has eminent domain power. "Landowners ... are entitled to know that the law does not support Bluegrass' assertion of the power of eminent domain." 

Shortly thereafter, the Bluegrass Pipeline announced that the project is "ahead of its time" and suspended capital spending due to "an insufficient level of firm customer commitments to ship products on the pipeline." Several in our group are of the opinion that the court's decision impacted the markets and the company's decision.

Bluegrass Pipeline representatives had repeatedly stated in public forums that they did not want to use eminent domain against Kentuckians. However, in July of 2014, attorneys representing Bluegrass Pipeline appealed Judge Phillip Shepherd's decision, clearly hoping to win the right to do so.

On May 22, 2015, the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the Franklin County Circuit Court decision that Bluegrass Pipeline LLC did not have the power of eminent domain, since it was not a utility regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The unanimous 3-0 decision will impact not only the Bluegrass and Kinder-Morgan "repurposing" projects, but will also prevent Kentucky oil and gas producers from using the threat of eminent domain to site gathering lines and wells. Only the regulated natural gas utilities can invoke the power under the court's decision. Many thanks to Tom FitzGerald and KURED, and all the citizens, non-profit groups, and elected officials who have stood up for our rights!

We do not yet know where this legal battle will end, but through the generous support of the Kentucky Resources Council and its supporters, we are prepared to take the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

Now, that was a long answer to a seemingly simple question. The second question, why I am no longer updating this page.... Although I'm not regularly here providing information, rest assured, I am actively working on this and related issues. Many of our group have moved their focus to another pipeline project, and you can keep up with their activities on the Facebook community page.

I can't begin to count the hours I put into the Bluegrass Pipeline issue. Don't get me wrong. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, and I will stay involved in the legal battle until the issue is resolved. What I came to realize in this process, however, is that there will always be another pipeline or another fracking operation, or some other such thing coming down the pike. This pipeline battle taught me that as long as there are individuals and families among us who are economically vulnerable, we will have vulnerabilities in our communities as a whole.  Communities that do not work together to ensure sustainability and economic resilience of its members will always be vulnerable to this sort of exploitation. For that reason, I have begun working with a group of other like-minded women in our area to promote the legalization of industrial hemp.

Why hemp? (You might ask....) Industrial hemp, not to be confused with marijuana, is a versatile agricultural crop that was once Kentucky's largest agribusiness.  It's true!   Hemp can be used for many things ranging from medicinal oils to fiber for building and clothing to biofuels and plant-based plastic. With many Kentucky farmers still reeling from the collapse of tobacco, hemp is an opportunity to restore land values and promote financial stability in many parts of the state. It is a movement beyond poetic justice when one considers that hemp has the potential to substantially reduce our dependence on fossil fuels AND stimulate the economy. We already know that coal and gas resources in the state are dwindling to the point that extreme measures such as fracking are the only way to extract them. Why not invest in infrastructure that supports a green, sustainable, renewable alternative like hemp? Want to get involved or just keep up with the latest hemp news in Kentucky? Join the growing group of followers of the North Woodford Industrial Hemp Initiative page on Facebook.