By Sarita Chourey –
COLUMBIA – Pointing to an eminent domain conflict over a rail terminal in North Carolina, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce is warning against the effects of legislation that would bar pipeline giant Kinder Morgan from condemning private property against the wishes of South Carolina landowners.
On Tuesday (NOATE: FEB.9), the S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee will take up S. 868, a bill intended to preempt any ability the pipeline company may have to force property owners to accept the sale of their land. Under the bill, the use of eminent domain would be off limits for a private, for-profit pipeline company, including a publicly traded for-profit company that isn’t classified as a public utility.
While the Savannah Riverkeeper and other conservation advocates hailed the proposal last week, South Carolina’s business leaders are urging caution. “We feel this amendment is shortsighted and sets a precedent that could have unintended consequences,” said Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Today this negative attention may be directed at one specific industry, but look no further than our neighbors in North Carolina to see that it can filter over into other areas of commerce and infrastructure.” He was referring to the proposed Carolina Connector intermodal rail terminal planned for Johnston County, N.C. Last month Americans for Prosperity North Carolina issued a press release urging passage of a bill to limit eminent domain powers to projects for public use.
However, support for the hub is reportedly welling up elsewhere in the region, creating a dilemma for state leaders and economic development proponents. If allowed to proceed, Kinder Morgan’s $1 billion, 360-mile petroleum pipeline would move up to 7 million gallons a day of gasoline, diesel and ethanol from Belton, SC., through Georgia and to Jacksonville, Fla. In Georgia, hundreds raised objections to the company’s threat of eminent domain to secure easements through some of the 400 private properties in the path of the pipe. Georgia’s transportation chief denied the company’s request, and the matter awaits a court decision. Kinder Morgan joined the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s “President’s Circle” last year, a membership tier that correlates to a$25,000-$49,999 “yearly investment” with the business group, and the second-highest listed on its website.
The pipeline company has been a member of the S.C. Chamber since 2007. Kinder Morgan has local memberships, too, including chambers in North Augusta and Aiken. An earlier version of Sen. Tom Young’s bill, S. 868, would have created an approval process through the Public Service Commission and the state environmental agency. That version was scrapped last week in favor of the current, tougher bill.