Georgia’s Senate Bill 191, addressing concerns regarding the construction of petroleum pipelines, on Thursday passed out of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee after having passed the Senate. It now awaits a floor vote by the full House. SB 191 puts in place additional permitting measures and more closely regulates private companies’ use of eminent domain for the construction of petroleum pipelines in Georgia.

 

Many stakeholders including Georgia-based companies, legislators, and conservationists worked diligently on the bill based on recommendations by a study committee convened by the legislature last session, only to have Chairman Don Parsons of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee amend it in favor of Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based company who tried to construct the Palmetto Pipeline through Southeast Georgia two years ago.

In 2015, the proposed Palmetto Pipeline seriously jeopardized private property rights and threatened several major watersheds along the Georgia coast. Kinder Morgan, a private for-profit company, attempted to use eminent domain to construct 360 miles of petroleum pipeline beginning in Belton, South Carolina down the entire Georgia coast to Jacksonville, Florida. Fortunately, the Georgia Department of Transportation, with Governor Deal’s support, denied Kinder Morgan a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to use eminent domain, and in 2016 construction of the Palmetto Pipeline was suspended indefinitely.

That controversy highlighted the need to examine the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies in addition to any impacts caused by pipeline siting, construction, and operation. During the 2016 legislative session, a State Commission on petroleum pipelines was formed and a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain by petroleum pipeline companies was instituted through June 30, 2017.

Despite repeated invitations, Kinder Morgan declined to appear at any of the Commission meetings.

Senator Rick Jeffares introduced Senate Bill 191 this session to address recommendations by the Commission. The bill in its amended form has issues that conservationists say must be corrected in order to fully protect Georgians and their property from the threats posed by petroleum pipelines. If the legislature does not pass legislation by March 30, the moratorium on the use of eminent domain by petroleum pipelines will be lifted on June 30, 2017. Savannah Riverkeeper supports the passage of strong legislation to protect property rights and water supplies.

“Chairman Parsons and anyone who voted for this version of SB 191 should have to answer for siding with a powerful Texas company over the bipartisan, compromise bill endorsed by several homegrown businesses here in our state. The bill intends to protect the citizens of Georgia from eminent domain abuse, and any attempt to weaken it is an attack on property rights,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, “While SB 191 includes much-needed improvements, it’s crucial that our House representatives pass a strong bill to protect water resources and private property rights.” Otherwise, she believes, the moratorium on petroleum pipeline construction should be extended for at least two more years.