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The Kentucky Legislative Session Wasn't Awful for the Environment, Lobbyist Says

This year’s legislative session is officially over, and one environmental lobbyist says it was a relative success.This year, there were about 50 bills that were loosely categorized as having something to do with the environment or energy (including ones that were tagged “natural gas,” “coal,” “pollution” and “nuclear”). Twelve of them passed the General Assembly, and have either been signed by Governor Beshear or are waiting on his signature. On the face, that’s a 24 percent success rate.But a lot of the bills that fall under these categories and passed are largely administrative—like one that extends the date for owners to register their petroleum tanks for assistance from the state, and one that removes the distinction between commercial and noncommercial taxidermist licenses.Art Williams of the Kentucky Conservation Committee says his group tracked 47 bills and resolutions this past year, which includes both legislation that the group lobbied for, and measures it lobbied against. Thirty-three of those bills didn’t pass. Twelve did, and two are pending.Williams says he focused most of his efforts on two bills. One was the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, which would have mandated utilities get more energy from renewable sources, and offer more energy efficiency programs. The bill didn’t pass, but the sponsors were hoping to get it a hearing for the second year in a row, which did happen. Williams says he thinks progress was made.“This year I actually think we had probably an even better reception in terms of friendlier questions and fewer hostile comments about the benefits of renewable and energy efficiency,” he said. “So we think we’re making some progress.”The KCC also lobbied for a bill that would allow nonprofit land trusts to apply for money through the state’s Heritage Land Conservation Fund, if they can match it dollar for dollar. That passed. And there were a few bills that Williams lobbied against…like a bill that the group felt would harm protections for nature preserves (that one didn’t make it out of committee).But overall, Williams says he thinks the General Assembly is becoming more aware of Kentucky’s energy issues, and the importance of diversifying the state’ energy mix. He says one bill that helped frame the issue was the so-called aluminum smelter bill. The bill didn’t pass, but if it had it would have allowed aluminum smelters to buy electricity on the wholesale market to cut costs. That wholesale electricity is largely supplied by natural gas, which is why right now it’s cheaper than coal.Williams says that issue presented some challenges for legislators.“The legislature historically has been very supportive of coal, very supportive of utilities. But they also want to be very supportive of industry,” he said. “But now you have an industry that’s been very dependent on coal that’s saying if we’re going to be around and succeed, we’re going to have to get our energy someplace else that’s cheaper than coal.”If everything that’s been sent to the governor is eventually signed, the legislature passed 135 measures during the session.