FRANKFORT – This was a busy week in Frankfort! The most high-profile meeting was this month’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment which even had an over-flow room. The topic was discussion of the Bluegrass Pipeline (pictured below) with representatives from the company itself, the Kentucky Oil & Gas Association, state agencies, and the Kentucky Resources Council which represents landowners. The pipeline project will carry natural gas liquids from the northwest part of Kentucky through the southeast portion on its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. It promises new investment with new dollars but there are significant private property concerns. The Bluegrass Pipeline is a joint project by Williams, an energy infrastructure company, and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. Representatives discussed the importance of the pipeline for jobs and energy independence and stressed their safety record and rigorous safety standards. They estimated that Kentucky schools would benefit from $136 million in new tax revenue over the first 10 years. They said they were committed to work with landowners and be respectful of property rights. During the meeting, I expressed concerns about the two companies’ ability to exercise eminent domain, the concept that organizations, usually public utilities but in this case a private company, can forcibly acquire land for an express public purpose. There is no consensus on whether they have such authority. I certainly support opportunities to boost Kentucky’s local and statewide economies, and make us less dependent on foreign natural resources, but I have significant concerns about the forced taking of private lands. The companies will be hosting a series of town-hall meetings throughout the state to make sure information is relayed to communities.
The Public Service Commission discussed the limits of their power to oversee natural gas liquids. They stated that it would take legislative action in the form of a new statute for them to have the power to regulate the pipeline. Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group, warned against the dangers of the pipeline, questioning the routing as well as oversight of the project. Finally, Secretary of Energy Len Peters spoke to the committee. He bluntly explained that the lawyers in his cabinet do not think that Bluegrass pipeline developers can invoke eminent domain.
The meeting marked the first time all sides sat down and presented their perspectives. With the recent news of Clarksville Gas & Water seeking land throughout much of Todd County (pictured below) for a transmission line of their own, the questions surrounding the authority and use of eminent domain continue to mount. I will be meeting with a representative of CG&W next week, and I have already been in contact with local elected officials and constituents in the area to learn more about what is proposed. If you have concerns or questions about either the Todd County pipeline or the Bluegrass Pipeline projects, I urge you to contact my Frankfort office by phone at (502) 564-8100, toll-free at (800) 372-7181, or by email at email@example.com. I look forward to many more meetings so that landowners and leaders at all levels can be as informed as possible.
The Judiciary Committee met at the Kentucky National Guard’s Joint Forces Operation Center in London, Kentucky. Congressman Hal Rogers welcomed the committee members and marked the 10th year of the successful Operation UNITE program he launched in 2003. The Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education program, which serves 32 counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, aims to fight substance abuse on each of those fronts. We learned about UNITE’s Assistance Hotline and treatment voucher programs, drug assessment and treatment needs in Kentucky, and about the Commonwealth’s treatment capacity, which according to the Department of Corrections has increased from 1,430 to 5,987 since 2007. I was particularly interested in the testimony from Dr. Henrietta Bada, Director of Kentucky Pediatric Research Institute at the University of Kentucky, and Dr. Ruth Ann Shepard, Director of Maternal and Child Health at the Kentucky Department of Health, regarding an issue I’ve written about before: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or drug-dependent babies. Unfortunately, the occurrence of NAS births is on the rise in the Commonwealth and across the nation. One baby is born every hour in the U.S. dependent on controlled substances. Children born with NAS is a concern that I am currently developing legislation to address.
Finally, the Juvenile Code Task Force heard the first report of data, coming from the Department of Juvenile Justice. Some of the more surprising figures: of the DJJ’s $102 Million budget, 55% is spent on detaining youth. Sixty percent of Kentucky’s youth disposed to DJJ are treated in the community, but those youth’s services only get 21% of the DJJ budget. The annual cost of a detention facility “bed” is over $87,000. Seventy-six percent of detainees are in custody for “public offenses,” which are crimes we are all familiar with, such as drug possession, theft, assault, etc., and include both felonies and misdemeanors. Perhaps the most striking is that there is less than a one month difference in the average length of stay between youth detained for felonies, misdemeanors and violations, despite each class of offense carrying much different penalties. After more data gathering in our next meeting, along with our first in-depth look at the systems we currently have in place, flaws and all, the Task Force will finally begin to form ideas on policies for the General Assembly to consider come January.
If you miss watching the proceedings live on KET, meetings are archived at www.ket.org.