Gov. Matt Bevin came to Paducah Wednesday to sign the "Robert J. Leeper Act" lifting Kentucky's 33-year-old moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.
The Paducah community has long advocated for an end to the nuclear ban and the economic opportunities it could bring, particularly because of the trained workforce that has been employed for decades at the U.S. Department of Energy's Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
The ceremonial signing took place before a packed house at the Commerce Center where community members joined local and state leaders to mark the successful end of a 10-year effort. During the past decade, a number of local officials have championed the bill in the Kentucky Legislature, none more than the bill's namesake, former State Sen. Bob Leeper, now McCracken County judge-executive.
State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, who succeeded Leeper as the senator from District 2, added his predecessor's name to his Senate Bill 11 because of his efforts to get the measure approved during his tenure.
"This bill was very much a team effort, even though I get most of the credit for it," Carroll said of the bill he sponsored. "I'm going to share the credit because that's the truth behind it."
First and foremost he praised Leeper as a friend and mentor and for helping him get comfortable with the subject. He also recognized the efforts of others, including state Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, who introduced the bill in the House, and state Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, who has offered the bill in previous sessions and worked in support of it this year.
"This bill is good for our region and good for our state," Carroll said. "It's very important that we grasp this and seize whatever opportunity the lifting of this moratorium might bring."
Leeper expressed his appreciation for the governor's leadership in getting the bill passed.
"I know for a fact had it not been for the confidence of a strong governor committed to this bill early on ... this never would have happened," Leeper said. "Knowing you've got a governor behind you makes all the difference in the world."
Leeper reflected on the many years he spent trying to get the bill passed, and emotionally thanked his wife, Gina, for her support.
"You knew how hard this was. And when you can't make something happen, you've got to have somebody behind you to push you back out there, and she was the one that did it, so thank you."
For his part, Bevin called the legislation "an easy bill to sign. This was the right thing to do, frankly, for this community and the right thing to do for Kentucky. It was the right thing to do for America for that matter. We are well-positioned to be able to take advantage of this."
According to Rudy, "There is definitely a renaissance in the (nuclear) industry. There's a lot in store, not just the typical old reactors like Three Mile Island. There's a lot being done with technology and research and development. This will send a clear signal Kentucky is OK with the nuclear industry and hopefully put us on the map."
Watkins said: "I was glad to be a part of it. I'm so happy for our community. It was our No. 1 priority, and we finally got it signed into law. I do look forward to seeing the benefits from it in the future. I think it will move Kentucky forward in the area of energy production and move the United States to become the energy powerhouse we should be."