Utility Regulators Dismiss Bernheim Complaint Over LG&E Gas Pipeline
Louisville Gas & Electric’s natural gas pipeline through northern Bullitt County is one step closer to breaking ground after utility regulators dismissed a trio of complaints on Friday.
Bernheim filed a complaint with the Kentucky Public Service Commission in August, arguing utility regulators violated the law when they awarded LG&E the right to construct a 12-mile-long pipeline through Bernheim's conservation lands.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission dismissed Bernheim’s complaint Friday, as well as two other complaints filed by landowners trying to block LG&E from running the pipeline through their properties.
The complaints failed to establish the evidence needed to reverse the commission's decision, according to Friday's orders. That decision granted LG&E a certificate to build the pipeline, known as a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity,” or a CPCN,
“I think what the commission determined in each of these cases is that the process by which LG&E was granted a CPCN for that pipeline was in conformance with the law,” said Public Service Commission Spokesman Andrew Melnykovych.
The complaints filed with the Public Service Commission were only one of several hurdles that remain before LG&E can begin construction on the pipeline. The utility is still seeking permit approvals. It's also pursuing eminent domain lawsuits to seize land along the pipeline's path.
Bernheim Executive Director Mark Wourms called Friday's decision "unfortunate," but not surprising given that the commission was reconsidering its own decision to allow the pipeline’s construction. Bernheim has 20 days to appeal the dismissal. Wourms said the nonprofit is still reviewing legal options.
“This decision is in no way the end of this issue or the fight to protect Bernheim and conservation easements,” he said.
Vanessa Allen is one of the landowners still holding out from selling her farm. In a call with WFPL News on Friday, Allen vowed to fight LG&E's eminent domain case, even after utility regulators dismissed her complaint. Allen could appeal the dismissal in the Franklin Circuit Court, but says she won't because she views the commission as a "lost cause."
"I mean honestly they don't serve the public, they serve Louisville Gas and Electric and that is quite clear," she said.
Louisville Gas and Electric spokeswoman Natasha Collins said in a statement the utility is pleased with the commission's ruling.
"Our goal now, as it always has been, is to meet the energy demands of our customers in the Bullitt County area with the safe, reliable natural gas service they’re requesting and service that will enable their families, businesses and our region as a whole to continue to grow and prosper," Collins said.
Shielded From Public Opinion
LG&E announced plans to build the natural gas pipeline through northern Bullitt County buried in hundreds of pages of testimony during a 2016 rate case.
Ordinarily, utilities apply to the Kentucky Public Service Commission for a certificate that a new project is safe, reliable and necessary. This is separate from a rate case. But in this case, LG&E argued it didn’t need to apply because the new project was only a pipeline extension, not a brand-new pipeline.
The commission ultimately granted LG&E the certificate based on the information supplied in the rate case without asking them file a separate application.
Bernheim's attorneys argued the commission's decision shielded the public from information about the pipeline and in doing so, violated state law. But in Friday's order, the commission found no such law requiring public notice for the construction of natural gas pipelines — even though similar laws exist for electric transmission lines.
“If you want the kind of process to exist for natural gas pipelines project as we currently have for electric transmission line projects, then the statute will have to be changed,” said Melnykovych with the Public Service Commission.
Bernheim Forest purchased the nearly 500-acre Cedar Grove property in 2018 for about $1.4 million to serve as a wildlife corridor and protect natural habitat for endangered species, including Indiana and northern long-eared bats. The land is north of the publicly accessible park and is not open to the general public.
The pipeline would cut about three-quarters of a mile through the Bernheim wildlife corridor along an existing easement for electric transmission lines.
Louisville Gas and Electric says it’s run out of capacity on the current gas pipeline and needs to build another to keep up with growth in the areas around Mt. Washington, Shepherdsville, Clermont and Lebanon Junction in Northern Bullitt County.
This story has been updated.