KENTUCKY “NATURE’S FINEST” LICENSE HOLDERS REBUFFED BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY

by Ruth Bamberger, Legislative Committee Chair
Sierra Club, Cumberland Chapter

KyNatureLicensePlates

Kentucky residents who purchase the special license plate “Nature’s Finest”  to help fund the state’s Heritage Land Conservation Fund should know that the 2014 General Assembly moved this earmarked fund into General Operating Revenues.  While this action was legal, it betrays those purchasing these license plates who thought the money would go for conservation projects to which they were committed.  The legislature, in their unwillingness to raise any additional revenue, has resorted to “budget games” that reflect little priority for environmental issues.

The Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund was set up to acquire areas possessing unique features for rare and endangered species, areas important for migratory birds, and areas to be protected in their natural state for public use, recreation, and education.  Funding for the KHLCF comes from sales of license plates (8%), an unmined minerals tax (50%), and environmental fines (42%).

Receipts from license sales over the past five years amounted to over $3 million.

The 2014 General Assembly reduced funding for the Heritage Fund by $5 million in 2015 and $3 million in 2016.  These cuts seriously undermine the resources needed to carry though the mission of the KHLFC.  The biennial budget is now cast in stone, but those license holders and other Fund supporters need to let their legislators know that moving the Fund into General Operating Revenues is unacceptable.  (find contact info for your legislators here)  Given the whirlwind of budget action in the closing days of the General Assembly, most legislators were probably not aware of the Land Conservation’s fate.  They need our voice!

Posted in InTheNews, Land Stewardship, Legislation, Public Lands, Wildlands, Wildlife | Leave a comment

“WHAT HATH THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY WROUGHT?”

Kentucky Capitolby Ruth Bamberger, Legislative Committee Chair
Sierra Club, Cumberland Chapter

In two words “Not Much.”  If nice guys finish last, the Sierra Club and other like Kentucky organizations have to be the nicest guys around!  But looking at it another way, “Not Much” means at least “A Little” on two of our priorities.

The Bluegrass Pipeline bill limiting the right of Eminent Domain to the Pipeline developers merited two hearings in the House Judiciary Committee;  the hearing room was packed both times by people impacted by the project as well as labor and industry supporters.  The House overwhelmingly voted to exclude pipeline companies transporting Natural Gas Liquids  (NGLs) as eligible to exercise Eminent Domain.  This bill would have prohibited Bluegrass Pipeline Partners from any exercise of Eminent Domain in negotiating with property owners.  The Senate, however, killed the bill on a procedural vote.

The good news is that BPP announced after the House Committee vote that it was delaying the Pipeline for a year, allegedly because of declining profits and other capital expenditures.  But one could also surmise that the delay was caused by the strong opposition to the Pipeline by the hundreds of people, including our members, who contacted their legislators.  Likewise, a lawsuit filed in Franklin County Court challenging BPP’s use of Eminent Domain was recently won by Pipeline opponents, though it will no doubt be appealed.

The “A Little” in the Clean Energy bill was the response of the House Tourism and Energy Committee Chair Keith Hall,  who represents a district in the heart of coal country, Pike County.  Representative Hall met with supporters following the hearing, urging us to continue our efforts in moving this bill forward, primarily because of its potential for jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. Three thousand more coal jobs have been lost in the past three years in Eastern KY, and the region is desperate for new industry.  In fact, the entire hearing focused more on jobs than anything else, but this may be the handle to accomplish our goal of moving “Beyond Coal.”

This legislative session was frustrating, to say the least.  The General Assembly continues to cut the budget in human services and environmental protection.  It will no doubt continue on this trajectory until desperately needed restructuring of the state tax system takes place.

The Blue Ribbon Tax Commission plan and the KY Forward HB220 bill calling for fair and equitable revenue increases remain in limbo.  Next year may see better results with the biennial budget out of the way.  In the meantime. the Sierra Club and our allies will continue to peck away at our priorities.

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CUMBERLAND CHAPTER Sierra Club Legislative Update

Bills currently being tracked by the Kentucky Sierra Club in the General Assembly:

1. Bluegrass Pipeline- Eminent Domain SB14
limits eminent domain to utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission. This bill would prohibit Bluegrass Pipeline Partners from using eminent domain over property owners who refuse to grant easements to the company for a natural gas liquids pipeline.

2. COMPREHENSIVE CLEAN ENERGY OPPORTUNITY BILL HB195
calls for utilities to generate a certain % of electricity from renewable resources—done in increments until 12.5% is achieved by 2024; utilities are also required to invest a % of their resources in energy efficiency projects such as insulation for low income households; a feed-in tariff for small and large scale clean energy producers to sell electricity to utilities would be designed to increase use of clean energy sources. Check out the KY Sustainable Energy Alliance web site for excellent background information. http://www.kysea.org

3. SAFE COAL ASH DISPOSAL HB241
requires coal ash disposal ponds to have liners, groundwater and toxic substance monitoring. (EPA is also developing regulations on coal ash disposal to be issued later this year.)

4. STREAM SAVER BILL HB288
prohibits dumping of toxic mine wastes into intermittent, perennial, and ephemeral streams in the state.

5. NUCLEAR ENERGY PLANTS HB52/SB67
would remove a de facto ban on nuclear power facilities by providing ONLY a safe means for storage of nuclear waste rather than a plan for permanent disposal of wastes. (Sierra Club opposes this bill.)

6. KENTUCKY CONSERVATION TAX CREDIT PROGRAM (does not yet have a bill number)
would create a state income tax credit for landowners who make permanent gift of land or restrict the use of their land for public benefit.

The full text of bills is available on the Legislative Research Commission web site: http://www.lrc.ky.org

Posted in Air, Coal, Efficiency, Energy, InTheNews, Legislation, Mining, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Public Lands, Renewable Energy, Water | Leave a comment

Healthy Foods Local Farms Event

Healthy Foods Local Farms ConferenceRegister Now!

Key Note:
   * BARTON SEAVER,
        Harvard School of Public Health

Other Speakers:
   * WENONAH HAUTER
          Food & Water Watch
   * DR. MICHELE MOREK, UNANIMA;
          an NGO at the United Nation
Scholarships:  get info

Posted in Agriculture, Air, CAFOs, Energy, Events, Health, Healthy Foods, InTheNews, Local Farms, Water | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment