ATLANTA – No company could apply for permission to build a petroleum pipeline in Georgia until the middle of next year under legislation introduced Wednesday.
There are questions about whether it would apply to the Palmetto Pipeline that is currently appealing the denial of its permit for eminent domain authority. That appeal is awaiting the decision of a Fulton County Superior Court judge who heard arguments in November.
“A study of environmental issues and eminent domain issues is something that needs to be done at this time,” said Rep. Bill Hitchens, sponsor of House Bill 1036.
Hitchens, a Republican from Rincon, said property owners in his district are concerned about loss of the portion of their land the Palmetto Pipeline would go through. And they worry that if new technology changes the economics of petroleum that Kinder Morgan may not have the means in 20-30 years to fund maintenance or cleanup of leaks.
Texas-based Kinder Morgan has plans to build the $1-billion Palmetto Pipeline from North Augusta, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., along a path that would roughly follow the Savannah River across Georgia. Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry denied the company’s request for the power to seize property, a power lawyers call eminent domain.
If it wins its appeal, it would still have to get a permit from the Environmental Protection Division about its specific route.
Lawyers from Kinder Morgan complained that the process is needlessly complicated and confusing. They also say the state wasn’t consistent in how it reviewed the only two pipelines applying to use a 20-year-old law.
One goal of Hitchens’ bill is to allow a 13-member commission of experts from business, agriculture, the environment and related fields to review the process, compare notes with how other states do it, and then prepare legislative recommendations by yearend.
He said he expects his bill to pass.
“I don’t know who would be opposed to doing research and having people who understand the issues taking a look at it,” Hitchens said.
Kinder Morgan estimates the Palmetto Pipeline will result in 1,200 temporary jobs and 28 full-time jobs and result in $12.5 million in annual tax revenue.
It also argues that the increased supply of gasoline the pipe would bring could save consumers. It notes that Savannah drivers, who get their fuel shipments by boat, pay 50 cent more per gallon than those in Augusta which are served by an existing pipeline.
However, McMurry came to a different conclusion.
The bill became public so late in the afternoon that neither Kinder Morgan nor environmental advocates had a chance to review it. The bill would take effect the moment Gov. Nathan Deal signs it into law, but whether or not it applies to the Palmetto Pipeline may depend on whether the judge had ruled in the company’s favor before Deal signs it, according to Steve Caley, legal director for GreenLaw.
If the judge ruled against Kinder Morgan, the company would probably appeal again and likely argue it is still exempt from the moratorium because it had already gotten in under the wire, so to speak.
“If they haven’t really done anything to start building the thing, they’d have a hard argument,” Caley said.
Company officials have also said they can complete the pipeline without eminent domain, either by going around property held by owners who object or by coming up with enough money to win them over. But experts say no modern pipeline spanning three states has ever been built without seizing some property from unwilling owners.
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