2018 General Assembly Regular Session: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Continuing a 34-year tradition, the Kentucky Resources Council was active in promoting legislation this year to protect the environment, conserve natural resources, protect the public in matters relating to public utility regulation, and to safeguard and advance the rights of the public to be involved in matters of governance. We were also very active in working with our allies to oppose bills and resolutions that would adversely affect these values.
Each year, we provide a brief wrap-up of the significant bills that the Council supported or opposed, a description of changes to those bills made in response to KRC’s concerns, and the outcome of those bills and resolutions. They are listed below under the headings “The Good,” “The Bad,” and “The Ugly” (with apologies to the movie of the same name!)
The Board and staff of the Council are deeply appreciative of members and supporters of KRC like you who make this and our other work, possible
The option of self-bonding for coal mining operations was eliminated with the passage of HB 261 (Rep. Gooch). KRC supported the bill, since allowing mining companies to avoid posting a surety bond to guarantee reclamation has been a real problem in many other states. The bill also sets tonnage limits on the removal of non-coal minerals by a landowner for noncommercial use on the property. KRC had concerns with the language, which were addressed by a committee amendment drafted by KRC.
The state Voluntary Environmental Remediation Act, which creates a process for remedying contaminated “brownfield” properties, was revised and streamlined to encourage more properties to use the program. KRC negotiated the language of HB 370 (Rep. R. Mills) with the state agency, city, and industrial interests.
The problem of failing wastewater treatment plants was addressed by the passage of HB 513 (Rep. Tipton), which would impose financial responsibility requirements on small wastewater plants and would empower the Cabinet to seek Court appointment of a receiver to assume the management of a troubled plant. SB 151 (Sen. Bowen) was amended to HB 513, and allows a utility to serve areas outside of its boundaries under certain conditions.
Kentucky’s pipeline safety laws became stronger with the adoption of SB 104 (Sen. Hornback) aligning state penalties with federal law and to require reporting of the PSC of damage to underground facilities used to transport gas or hazardous liquids. KRC had some concerns regarding the scope of preemption of local enforcement regarding safety violations and worked with the sponsor and PSC Staff to address them in a Senate Committee Substitute.
The Energy and Environment Cabinet reorganization bill, Senate Bill 129 (Sen. Carpenter), creates a new office of Nature Preserves and combining Wild Rivers, Heritage Land Conservation, and Nature Preserves Commission functions. KRC requested, and the Cabinet made, several revisions to the omnibus bill. KRC is disappointed to see the Nature Preserves Commission cease to function as an independent entity.
The hearing process for oil and gas statutes was modernized, and hearing rights for all parties expanded, by SB 249 (Sen. Carpenter). The bill is the latest work product of the Oil and Gas Workgroup, and KRC was involved in the bill drafting.
KRC is pleased to report that, other than the Executive Branch Budget “funds transfers” from the Heritage Land Conservation Fund (HB 200), there were no other bills actively opposed by KRC that became law. The Council worked to help stop several “bad” bills from becoming law.
Among the bills KRC actively opposed in the 2018 session, were bills that would: have imposed higher registration fees on hybrid and electric vehicles (HB 45 and HB 609); immunized automobile drivers who negligently kill or injure protestors (HB 53); delayed court access for asbestos claims (HB 293); moved the venue for judicial review of agency action to local courts from Franklin Circuit Court (HB 515); called for a constitutional convention for a balanced budget; placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment allowing legislative caps on recovery of damages for personal injury and wrongful death (SB 2); prohibited solid waste boards from regulating or banning plastic bags for composting (SB 82); proposed a constitutional amendment to give legislative committees veto power over administrative regulations (HB 10); allowed more billboards at sporting facilities (HB 384) and government buildings (HB 501); and expanded the rights of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority to hang fiber in existing utility easements by trampling on the rights of landowners to give or withhold consent for use of any easement (SB 223).
One bill that did pass is of concern. SB 203 (Sen. Wise) weakens oversight of public-private partnership projects by suspending the requirement for General Assembly committee approval for public-private partnership projects contracted, for projects publicized prior to July 1, 2020.
The effect of HB 227 (R. Gooch) on the net metering of electricity merits the title of “ugly.”
Presented as an effort to require that solar customers pay their “fair share” of the fixed costs of service, the bill was the utility industry’s latest effort to throttle distributed solar generation so as to corner the market on renewable energy with their more-costly solar arrays. Working with a broad array of allies and solar advocates, and with the active involvement of the members of KRC and of those allied organizations, the utilities could not muster the Senate votes to pass the bill. Despite utilities spending close to $300,000 in lobbying and advertising on the bill, HB 227 was sent back to committee at the 11th hour on the last day of the session.