Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Bats From Methane Gas Pipeline

CEDAR GROVE, Ky.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Kentucky Resources Council filed a formal notice of intent to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect imperled bats from harm by the construction of the proposed Bullitt County Transmission Line in Kentucky.

The conservation organizations are challenging the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the project will not jeopardize three bat species, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act authorization for the pipeline.

The three species — Indiana bats, northern long-eared bats and gray bats — all rely on caves and other underground habitat for survival. All three species are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Service and the Corps completely ignored the presence of caves and threats to endangered bat cave habitat when they authorized this pipeline,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “We’re here to say that sticking one’s head in the sand is not a method for avoiding extinction. Kentucky’s bats deserve better.”

The path of the proposed pipeline in eastern Bullitt County is laced with abundant karst caves and sinkholes, making it likely that listed bats use the project area as habitat. Documented sinkholes in the path of the pipeline also highlight the danger of a sinkhole collapse rupturing the pipeline, resulting in a fireball that could burn nearby homes and their occupants. Numerous Kentucky pipelines — and their neighbors — have suffered a similar fate in recent years.

“Relying on inadequate visual surveys by an LG&E contractor, the federal government failed to meet its legal obligations to protect these bats and their habitat,” said Ashley Wilmes, director of the Kentucky Resources Council. “The rubber-stamping of this pipeline project is particularly concerning given that LG&E’s plans to clearcut trees, impact water resources and destroy bat — including within the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor — are primarily for the benefit of the Jim Beam distillery.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service is required to examine all potential impacts to listed bats caused by construction of the pipeline, and both the Service and the Corps are duty-bound to avoid jeopardizing the survival of endangered species.

Local residents repeatedly told the agencies that the proposed pipeline’s path is laced with caves and sinkholes. However, the Service based on its “no jeopardy” finding for listed bats on the conclusion that no caves or sinkholes exist in the project area.

Beam Suntory, the owner of Jim Beam, owns a distillery in eastern Bullitt County that the proposed pipeline would serve. In 2015 Beam Suntory approached the local utility, Louisville Gas & Electric, about a new gas pipeline to support an expansion at its distillery. When Beam Suntory learned that the pipeline would cost the company $25 million, the company refused to pay for it.

The next year, LG&E proposed to increase rates on local ratepayers to finance the pipeline, and the proposal was approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission in 2017. The pipeline is now projected to cost ratepayers $74.2 million.

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