What's Going on with Georgia's Oil Pipelines?
Apr 12 2017 Comments 0
In the wake of a new bill threatening to rewrite the rules for petroleum pipeline construction, the state Senate has Georgia well and truly on its mind. After controversy forced a temporary freeze on Senate Bill 191 last year, lawmakers are now trying to reach a compromise over the state’s petroleum pipelines.
Sponsored by state senators, the bill would set new limits on the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies. Essentially, companies would no longer be allowed to use land unless acquiring a ‘Certificate of Need’ from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Plus, a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Division. Even companies not planning to use eminent domain would still need to source a permit from state environmental officials, which could take up to 180 days. This would transform the state’s existing Pipeline Act, which has been in place since 1995.
Power to the people
The movement has been largely fuelled by local residents, who voiced their concerns to a joint legislative commission. Unsurprisingly, public safety and private property rights were top priorities.
“We heard about egregious use of eminent domain” comments Frank Ginn, R- Danielsville, Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee Chairman. He was part of the commission, and helped shepherd the bill through the chamber. He maintains that under the new bill, the state of Georgia will be able to prevent abuse, without deterring energy giants.
Criticism from oil giants, and eco advocates
Of course, passing new bills isn’t straightforward. The proposal has received tough criticism from Georgia’s major pipeline operators, including Kinder Morgan, Colonial Pipeline and Colonial Oil. All are lobbying for a shorter review period, citing 120 days as a reasonable timeline.
Environmental advocates have also slammed lawmakers for dropping an important provision which bans the construction of new pipelines within 50 miles of coastal saltwater marshes. They also maintain that eminent domain decisions should be made by elected officials, as opposed to private agencies.
“We are certainly glad to see the petroleum pipeline bill moving forward at last, but the provision that the decision of whether or not the power of eminent domain is used for these pipelines needs to be in the hands of an elected, not an appointed, official,” explains Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club. “A judge of the Superior Court where the condemnation is proposed,” he adds, “is a much better official to make that very important decision.”
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