A simple little bill

As innocuous as it may sound, HB 1 ( The right to hunt and fish bill) has the potential to dramatically change how the Commonwealth manages land for reasons other than hunting and fishing. In fact, the simple bill (that is only about one paragraph long) seems to imply that the only value any non-developed land has is its value in regard to hunting and fishing. Further, it seems to say that any sort of legal restriction on land use is only valid if it   Promotes wildlife conservation and management and preserves the future of hunting and fishing. The standard against which all future restrictions on what you can and can’t do on public lands ( parks, scenic areas, nature preserves, hiking and riding trails etc.) will be judged solely on their impact on the future of hunting and fishing.
What this would do to the current restrictions on hunting and fishing in nature preserves or parks and other scenic areas is unclear  and troublesome. Common sense restrictions on where and when you can hunt and fish protects individuals’ rights as well as wildlife resources. But there are other restrictions that the state uses for reasons other than wildlife management. Restrictions are placed on land use to help promote the development of rich and diverse biological communities. Rules on water pollution and the destruction of natural areas do not always clearly promote the conservation and management of  fishing and hunting but still have a significant impact on the overall health of the ecosystem. Whether these sorts of restrictions would be allowable under the new amendment would likely be decided in court.
So why is it necessary to amend our State Constitution in such narrow manner. That’s a good question. There is a thread of fear that runs through all of what I like to call this “secessionist” session. It’s the fear that somehow our government has become some sort of alien power bent on taking away all of our rights and centering on our right to own and use firearms. If this bill passes, it will put the question to all the voters of the state in the form of a constitutional amendment. The money that will pour in to the state from certain groups, and the general anti-government feeling that’s so prevalent today may very well see it passed. If it passes it may break something that has functioned pretty well for a long time. At the very least, it will confuse the right of government to protect its natural areas except when they are directly related to hunting and fishing. You still have a chance to voice your objections to this bill to your legislative leaders. The KCC strongly urges you to do so.

The Good-The Not so Good- and the Downright Ugly

It is an indisputable fact that there have been many unfortunate events in my life … a couple of which actually happened. This is similar to the current session of the Legislature. There are several bad pieces of legislation floating around giving lobbyists like me severe heartburn, whether or not any of them will actually happen is another story. The general feeling is that very few pieces of legislation will pass and for my part I’m fine with that. So what’s good ,bad and ugly. Let’s start with the good

SB 120 , a bill by Senator Brandon Smith would certify laboratories that do water sampling for various environmental programs that require monitoring. This is way overdue. As a former official of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet (In the good old days before it became an “Energy first” Cabinet) I can tell you how much faith we put in the data submitted by “Billy-Bob’s Environmental Services and Small Engine Repair”. You often had to get past Billy-Bob’s lunch in the refrigerator to get to an “uncontaminated” sample.

Senator Bob Leeper’s SB 70 updating ( mainly strengthening) the screening levels for cleanup and remediation of hazardous sites ( think “Brownfields” ) goes a way to make up for his little nuclear energy industry bill that we lock horns over every session. (In truth, Senator Leeper has over his career been a very conscientious and thoughtful legislator and has authored many good pieces of environmental legislation.)

Of course we give Koodo’s ( if indeed she would want any) to Senator Kathy Stein for sponsoring the “streamsaver bill” which will more than likely be boxed up in some unknown committee for the duration. One wag suggested that we do a title amendment to change the name to the “We love Coal” streamsaver bill to increase it’s chances of getting a hearing.

Koodo’s again to Reps. Joni Jenkins and MaryLou Marzian for sponsoring two good bills on energy and the environment: (Marzian’ HB 239 giving some bite to incentives for producing electricity from alternative sources, and Jenkin’s HB 237 which has the intent to better regulate coal combustion byproducts.

In the not-so-good category we find HB 205 a bill by a Representative (Tom McKee) another representative who on the whole has been good for agriculture and the environment in our State ( must be something in the drinking fountains this session) . At any rate, our main problem here is that HB 205 seems to stack the State Agricultural Board with members of the Kentucky Farm Bureau and their “commodity group” cronies to the exclusion of our friends in aquaculture, silviculture and organic farming and the Community Farm Alliance. We hope that we can negotiate some more members of this new Board.

HB 421from the desk of Representative Jim Gooch would try and take the EPA out of the water discharge permit loop for coal mining. Suffice it to say that this may be one of those “be careful what you wish for” bills since taking away EPA authority to veto discharge permits would most likely result in EPA taking over the entire state program, and I don’t think that the coal operators want that.

Now for the ugly:

SB 50 (Jensen) would hand over the  power of condemnation of an individual’s property to a private corporation in order to site a CO2 gas pipeline in Kentucky which would be used for it’s own private interests. I don’t have to spell out the grave precedent of this proposal. The right of condemnation of land for public use has been upheld for many years, but the test for what constitutes that use has been restricted to lands under direct control of the public. This bill would authorize a private corporation to take someone’s land by condemnation and use it for it’s private interests to the exclusion of that same public.

SB 10 (Thayer et.al.) Would put a constitutional amendment before the people for a “21st Century Bill of Rights”. The problem is that mostly it would be the right for groups to run amok with little or no ability for the State to regulate anything. Coal could be mined without interference from nosy State or Federal inspectors, hunters could pretty much hunt wherever they liked on any public land unless the State could show a “compelling” interest in saying no ( wonder if they would have to yell “four” before they shot a duck on a public golf course?). Just another case of lobbing a big fat wedge issue over to the other Chamber and saying “vote against this one ,Bolsheviks”.

SJR 99 ( a bad one from our friend Sen Smith) Declares Kentucky a “sanctuary State” ( I can almost see Quasimodo pulling on that bell rope at Notre Dame cathedral), and thus free of the “burdensome” EPA oversight of water quality standards, in particular the new conductivity standards for mining. It’s probably a good idea, after all, how much water quality is too much water quality?

And on it goes.

Usual Suspect Shows up in 2011

A  “usual legislative suspect” showed up again in the opening days of the 2011 “short” session in the form of Senate Bill 34. Sponsored by Senator Bob Leeper (I) from Paducah ( home of the gaseous diffusion plant), SB 34 would spur the development of Nuclear power facilities by replacing the current requirement for a plan to dispose of nuclear waste with a plan to temporarily store it instead. It could also create conditions (through the generation of  waste streams from new nuclear facilities) , that would require siting low-level waste disposal sites in Kentucky. KCC has opposed this bill in the past two sessions and plans to do so again.

By 2020, it’s estimated by Dr. Rodney Ewing, a researcher at the University of Michigan, that more than 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from power plants will be in storage in the U.S.. While the greatest part of the volume will consist of lower level, shorter-lived nuclear constituents, the threat from the long-lived, actinides such as plutonium 239 (half-life of 24,000 years) and the Neptunium isotope Np 237 (radioactive half-life of 2,000,000 years) will constitute the bulk of the radiotoxicity problems in the next few hundred years. Researchers are studying ways to possibly bind these wastes with minerals such as zircon for safer long-term disposal, but the results of tests on the effectiveness of this are not yet in. We feel that in light of on-going research, the only prudent course is to minimize and not encourage the production of these wastes until a suitable, long-term solution is devised for the problem.

Another bill of interest is SB 10 which would create an amendment to the Constitution giving citizens an inalienable right to (among other things) hunt,fish and trap on all public lands unless the  State can show a “compelling” interest to restrict it and use the “least restrictive means” to further that interest. This seems to be another “Government as the enemy” bill. The standards for what constitutes a “compelling interest” are not specified nor is “least restrictive means”. This raises the spectrum of unrestricted hunting and trapping on nature preserves, wildlife management areas, trail riding reserves, State Parks,etc. Perhaps one day the aliens that flew over and dropped this “government” on us will come and retrieve it so we can go back to the “good old days” of children working twelve hour days, 360% interest rates and not letting “just anyone” vote. Stay tuned for what should be a noisy, interesting if not productive session.

Birds of Slightly Different Feathers Flock Together

On his 100th birthday, Hubie Blake, the noted blues composer remarked “If I had known that I was going to live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.” I experienced a similar feeling as I stood in front of over thirty people representing conservation, recreation and preservation groups from across the state. I never really thought I would live long enough to see the sight.

Called together jointly by The KCC,The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), the meeting marked the beginnings of the creation of a statewide coalition to push for legislation designed to fund a comprehensive Land Stewardship program. For over six years this has been the major thrust of the Kentucky Conservation Committee, but not until today have we seen the actual groups assembled that can get the job done. There were organizations that one wouldn’t normally see around the table together: The League of Kentucky Sportsmen; The Sierra Club; Kentucky Heartwood; The League of Women voters and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to name but a few. It was a clear indication of the shared interests of these groups and all Kentuckians in seeing the advent of serious funding for the protection and promotion of Kentucky’s natural land assets.

Presentations by myself and Dr. Bill Martin on the last legislative session and the results of the Land Stewardship Task were followed by a review by TNC and TPL of their recent efforts nationally in securing funding for Land Stewardship and their suggestions for Kentucky. The meeting ended with specific tasks to be performed by TNC and TPL to begin the coalition building process and complete a legislative strategy and included a commitment by both National organizations to come up with funding for the studies. The first two steps will be to complete an economic feasibility study of funding mechanisms and then commence actual polling to try and gauge public sentiment for the initiative. It’s all exciting stuff for an old campaigner. I’m confident that we can continue to build and expand the coalition to the point that the Legislature will have to take notice. Please contact your local conservation, recreation or preservation group and encourage their participation in the cause.

Land Stewardship Lives on

Although HB 419 fell to the forces of looneydom that have gained increasing power of late over many weak-willed legislators the movement for a comprehensive State program remains. We learned a lot from HB 419, not the least of which is that we’re going to need a lot more help from a lot more places if we hope to provide the kind of long-term funding such a program would require. Two recent meetings among concerned parties such as The KCC, the Heritage Land Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands hold out the hope of just such a concerted effort. If we’re going to try again in 2011, we’re going to have to continue to expand our efforts at raising awareness, in particular awareness among groups that are involved with land conservation and with the legislators that represent them. With the help of the two National conservation groups (The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands) I believe that we can take this effort to the next level and get the attention of lawmakers and interest groups enough to push this forward in 2011. No one group can do this. It will have to be an effort from all conservation, recreation and general environmental groups, and there will need  to be a willingness to put aside some individual interests for the good of a comprehensive program. It’s been a long road, and the journey isn’t over yet. To steal a quote from Winston Churchill “It’s not the end or even the beginning of the end. But it is, I believe, the end of the beginning.” Onward to 2011!

HB 419 sleeps with the fishes

In 1922 Schlomo Macintosh the famous Scottish/Israeli marathoner slipped on a banana peal 100 yards from the finish of the prestigious Sioux City marathon and ultimately lost a race he had led the entire way …  o.k. I made that up, but I only did it to assuage the pain of getting a bill all the way through the legislative process only to see it die on the floor of the Senate on the last regular day of the session.

Why did HB 419 fail? Well, there are many reasons. First, I’ll step up and take some of the blame. I probably could have done a better job explaining the bill to members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The fact is I thought that having the bill in a committee where the chairman was a major supporter would go a long way in assuring it’s passage. I was wrong.

Secondly. who would have expected our bill to be the target of a group of  property rights folks who saw it as a government plot to take their land.

Lastly, who can figure the legislative process? One part of our problem was a simple personality conflict between two members of the two main Houses of the Legislature. Another was that we were fighting an ingrained dislike for the PACE program by some members of the Senate. Another was the general craziness of the final days of the session when everything comes to a head in a couple of hectic days. Perhaps most important was that we were never able to get the support of the most important member of the Senate, Senate President David Williams who has the ultimate power to hear bills or let them die.  I thank all those who emailed and texted in vain.

But, all was not loss. It often takes two or even three attempts to pass significant legislation, and providing adequate funding for a program to preserve  and protect unique areas of our State is certainly significant. We also learned a lot about our opposition and how to better approach the issues in the future. Perhaps best of all, we raised the awareness of a large number of legislators to the need for more funds for land stewardship and in turn garnered a lot of support for the idea from many areas of the State. This will bode well when we start building a coalition of interests from preservation, conservation and recreation groups to return to the fray in 2011with a plan for funding Land Stewardship in Kentucky.

Finally, some thankyous are in order to Rep Charlie Hoffman and Rick Rand and Senators Brandon Smith, Damon Thayer, David Boswell and Dorsey Ridley who were especially helpful in this process. Also many thanks to my old pal Bill Martin as well as KCC chair Vicki Holmberg for helping contact so many legislators and a special thanks to former first lady Libby Jones who has always been a great resource and ardent supporter.

Nuclear bill finds a new home

The silly season is officially in full stride. With a flurry of voting and re-voting, Senator Bob Leeper’s SB 26 (which allows nuclear power plants and other processing facilities to operate without a plan for disposal of the waste) was successfully tacked onto Rep. Rocky Adkins HB 213 which gives condemnation powers to CO2 pipelines. It’s unclear what the fate of this will be when it returns to the House for a concurrence vote on this amendment. This is just one of what will be a flurry of last-minute attempts to get bills passed that have stalled in the other House. KCC will continue to monitor this activity until the last day of the concurrence session next Tuesday. It would behoove those who oppose the promotion of nuclear power without a solution to the problem of long-term storage of waste to contact their Representative and express their concerns with this amendment.

A second issue we are monitoring closely is the so called “bill board bill” (allowing the cutting of obstructing trees on the public right-of-way) which was unsuccessful in the Senate and withdrawn a week ago. When a bill is withdrawn it becomes a prime candidate to show up as an amendment on another piece of legislation. Just which bill is the question. So far it hasn’t appeared, but we will continue to closely watch.

As to HB 419, there is word of an amendment that KCC can live with being added on the floor today or tomorrow. This would send it back to the House for concurrence either Monday or Tuesday. That still gives it a chance.

HB 419 comes out of Senate Committee

I think it was veteran Louisiana politician Russell Long that once said “one day the people of Louisiana are going to get good government … and they ain’t gonna like it”. With one nay and six yes votes, the people of Kentucky got good government today and it remains to be seen whether the Kentucky Senate likes it. The Land Stewardship Fund bill passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee after some tense debate on the use of tax dollars to fund the PACE program and the general merits of purchasing private land for any public purpose. This leaves the last, and perhaps most difficult hurdle, a vote from the full Senate. With only two days scheduled to finish Senate business and two more to deal with amendments to bills, it will take a concerted effort to get this bill posted on the orders of the day. This posting comes from Senate Leadership. It is also very possible that there will be a floor amendment filed prohibiting the use of tax dollars for the purchase of private agricultural easements. Senator Bob Leeper will likely file it. KCC along with the Kentucky Resources Council is working on possible language that might be acceptable to all parties, but the exact language has not yet been produced. An amendment not withstanding, this will be the last big push in what has been a long and difficult journey for HB 419. If you still have it in you, a blast to all the members of the Senate supporting HB 419 would be most helpful. When a certain perennial gubernatorial candidate was running back in the eighties a good friend of mine came up with her campaign slogan: “Let’s all get behind Doris and push!” Let’s all get behind HB 419 one more time and push. Thanks

HB 419 in critical condition

HB 419, the Land Stewardship Taskforce’s bill is still breathing, but will need a near miracle to pass the Senate. The Senate Natural Resources Committee will meet Wednesday. The bill has enough votes to pass out of the committee, but that will put the it only two short days away from the last regular voting day of this session. The last two days in March are …as of now… reserved for considering bills that have been amended in the other chamber. In order to pass, HB 419 will have to get its three readings and onto the orders of the day by Friday. This is a tall order, but not impossible. To do so, it will need the solid support of all of you, emailing and calling your Senators. Don’t worry if you’ve already done it, it can’t hurt to keep reminding them of your support.

In other news, HB 562, Rep Tanya Pullin’s good net metering bill passed the house and is in Senate Judiciary. A quick email to Senator Tom Jensen, et. al would be in order. This bill provides some real incentives for people wanting to put alternative energy to work in Kentucky.

HB 419 shows signs of life

Almost given up for dead, HB 419 may see a committee vote early this week. Spurred on by the efforts of Committee Chair Brandon Smith and members David Boswell and Dorsey Ridley to name two others, HB 419 clings to life. Thanks to a concerted by supporters, ( special thanks to Bill Martin, Libby Jones and Larry Arnett) the hope now is that it will clear the Natural Resources Committee and hit the floor of the Senate by mid-week. This gives it a chance to pass. We’ll need every email and message possible, especially to members of the Senate leadership, to see this thing through to the end. I’m reprinting for the blog an explanation were are giving to each member of the Senate:

WHY SUPPORT HB 419?

  • HB 419 is the product of four years of study by the 22 members of the Land Stewardship Taskforce, who compared Kentucky’s land conservation programs with those of surrounding states.
  • HB 419 is the first phase in what will be a campaign to raise awareness of and financial support for land stewardship in Kentucky.

WHAT IS LAND STEWARDSHIP?

  • Land Stewardship refers to a combination of programs designed to preserve and promote the natural beauty of our state. There are three components of land conservation in land stewardship:

1) Preservation: nature preserves, unique habitats, endangered species, etc.

2) Conservation: working farms, forests and woodlands and green spaces.

3) Recreation: fishing, hunting, trail riding, bird-watching, off road vehicle’s as well as other access to Kentucky’s natural beauty.

All of these areas are equally important in a land stewardship program.

WHAT DOES HB 419 DO?

  • HB 419 simply creates a fund, a logical place to put money when and if it becomes available.
  • HB 419 also makes private non-profit conservation groups of all kinds eligible for Heritage Land Fund projects.

WHAT DOESN”T HB 419 DO?

  • HB 419 does not carry any kind of appropriation nor does it raise any taxes.
  • HB 419 can use tax receipts as part of its fund, but only if the Legislature creates the tax, or the people vote for it through a constitutional amendment.
  • HB 419 buys property only from willing sellers, there is no power of eminent domain

PLEASE HELP CREATE A LAND STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM IN KENTUCKY BY SUPPORTING THE TASKFORCE RECOMMENDATION AND VOTING YES ON

HB 419