By David Pendered
The coming days could tell a lot about the potential of the Palmetto Pipeline being built across sections of Georgia and South Carolina.
Lawmakers in the two states are slated to consider, on Feb. 23, proposals that would prevent the pipeline developer from using the power of eminent domain to take land necessary to build the pipeline, according to a statement from the Savannah Riverkeeper.
Kinder Morgan, Inc. has proposed a $1 billion pipeline that would traverse a total of 360 miles in South Carolina and Georgia. Kinder Morgan contends the pipeline is needed to transport up to 167,000 barrels of petroleum products to consumers located mainly in Savannah and Jacksonville.
Opposition has roiled for some time. State officials in Georgia and South Carolina have determined that Kinder Morgan does not have legal authority to condemn land in order to build the property.
This is where lawmakers have intervened.
In Georgia, state Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) filed House Bill 1036 on Feb. 17. The bill would create a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for pipeline construction. Co-signers include Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), the House minority leader.
Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), chair of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications, called a meeting for Feb. 23. The subcommittee is to consider Hitchens’ proposed moratorium, during which a proposed State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines would review an array of issues related to pipeline construction including:
- “Examine the impacts on land associated with pipeline siting, construction, and operation, including impacts associated with potential leaks and spills;
- “Examine the current legal and regulatory structure pertinent to the protection of land uses and natural resources from impacts associated with pipeline siting, construction, and operation;
- “Examine the purposes behind and necessity, if any, of Part 2 of this article and the grant therein of eminent domain powers to pipeline companies and the siting procedures therein and weigh those with the rights of property owners affected by the use of such eminent domain powers;
- “Consider the extent to which the powers granted pipeline companies under Part 2 of this article, and more broadly the existing legal and regulatory system pertinent to the siting, construction, and operation of pipelines, are consistent with and implement Georgia’s essential public interest in establishing minimum standards for land use in order to protect and preserve its natural resources, environment, and vital areas.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the state Senate is slated to vote Feb. 23 on proposed legislation that would impede Kinder Morgan’s ability to condemn land, according the Savannah Riverkeeper.
The website of the South Caroline Legislation does not readily provide information about the calendar of upcoming votes. It does say that Senate Bill 868 was approved Feb. 10 by the Judiciary Committee.
The proposal reminds lawmakers of an opinion issued July 1, 2015 by the South Carolina Attorney General’s office that said there is “substantial doubt” as to whether state law intended to provide the power of eminent domain to a private oil or petroleum company.
The legislation essentially states that Kinder Morgan does not have the power to condemn land. The legislation enumerates a number of caveats before concluding:
- “The provisions of this section do not apply to private, for-profit pipeline companies, including publicly traded for-profit companies, that are not defined within this title as a public utility.”