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Legislative Update from Senator Webb

FRANKFORT– During our most recent Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy meeting, we delved into the critical state of the veterinary profession in Kentucky. The testimony shed light on the immense challenges faced by the Office of State Veterinarian (OSV) in balancing the demands of their increased workload with a significant decrease in staffing over the past two decades. Despite the commendable efforts of Commissioner Quarles to bolster the OSV staff, there remains a distinct gap between the resources available and the needs of our growing agricultural sectors.

The figures presented were stark. While the OSV staff saw reductions, the state witnessed a surge in the farming of cervids, backyard poultry flocks, and a significant increase in both import and export certificate inspections. These burgeoning numbers are reflective of Kentucky’s thriving agricultural industry, but they also highlight the immense pressure on our limited veterinary workforce. Additionally, the OSV’s involvement in managing the aftermath of various natural disasters and disease outbreaks only compounds their workload.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has taken proactive measures to address this glaring issue. The establishment of the Veterinary Shortage Working Group (VSWG) is a promising step in the right direction. By encompassing representatives from all facets of animal agriculture, the veterinary profession, and higher education institutions, this group has the potential to create comprehensive solutions. Their four-pronged approach, aimed at student recruitment, veterinary education, transitioning to rural practices, and retention in these areas, underscores the depth and breadth of the challenges at hand. We eagerly await their report, due at the end of November, to provide actionable insights.

Additionally, the KDA’s collaboration with national bodies, such as the Farm Journal Foundation (FJF) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), indicates a broader, more coordinated approach to this issue. The FJF’s study on the shortage of food animal veterinarians and its impact on rural communities is especially pertinent to Kentucky’s context.

On the federal front, there is a wide recognition of the problem. The establishment of the Veterinary Medicine Caucus in the U.S. Senate and the introduction of the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act are a testament to the growing national awareness of the importance of veterinarians in safeguarding our food systems and the health of our livestock.

It’s evident that while Kentucky faces a significant challenge, the wheels are in motion to address the veterinarian shortage. Commissioner Quarles’ dedication to elevating this issue in the media also ensures that it remains in the public eye. As members of this committee, we must support these initiatives and ensure a sustainable future for Kentucky’s agricultural sectors.

During this week’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy meeting, the Energy and Environment Cabinet presented an update on the Orphan Oil and Gas Well Plugging Program, shining light on Kentucky’s diligent response.

Last year, Kentucky wisely applied for and was awarded a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) Initial Plugging Grant of $25 million. Remarkably, the state met the obligation of utilizing 90 percent of these funds by December 19, 2022, and 100 percent by September 25. This led to the assembly of 43 plugging packages to address 635 orphan wells. As of now, 627 wells across 27 counties have been effectively plugged. The last of these wells in Wayne County is currently being addressed.

While these achievements have been significant, the journey doesn’t end here. Kentucky is now eligible for a BIL Formula Plugging Grant of $78.98 million, spread across phased annual installments. The work under this grant will be slower due to increased Department of the Interior involvement and methane measurement requirements. But rest assured, the commitment remains unwavering: Kentucky will continue to plug orphan wells, ensuring a cleaner and safer environment for citizens.

Also highlighted during the meeting was the newly established Kentucky GRANT Program, a result of House Bill (HB) 9 passed this year. To uplift energy communities, the program is set to upgrade infrastructure, address environmental damages, foster entrepreneurship, and bolster workforce development.

Beyond the confines of our state, the BIL is preparing a whopping $100 billion investment in crucial sectors like transportation, broadband, clean water, and energy infrastructure. Specific to energy, projects range from clean hydrogen hubs to orphaned wells and energy improvements in remote areas. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is another catalyst for growth. Eastern Kentucky, with its energy-producing communities, stands to gain significantly from IRA’s targeted investments. Notably, $4.1 billion in BIL funding has been allocated for Kentucky. This encompasses $119.7 million for reclaiming abandoned lands, $229 million for water infrastructure, and a considerable $555.6 million aimed at clean energy and efficiency.

To my constituents: I recognize the pivotal role our district plays in the energy sector. These numbers aren’t just figures; they represent a dedication to rejuvenating our communities, providing economic development, and sustainable growth.

For more information on the Kentucky General Assembly, visit the Legislative Record online at www.legislature.ky.gov. If I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. To share feedback on an issue, feel free to email me anytime at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV or call the General Assembly Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 711. 

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