COLUMBIA — Concerns about eliminating Kinder Morgan’s ability to use eminent domain are surfacing, even as South Carolina moves closer to preventing the company from forcibly purchasing land from property owners in order to build a $1 billion petroleum pipeline.
On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved S. 868, which would make explicit that eminent domain powers are not allowed for “a private, for-profit company, including a publicly-traded for-profit company, that is not defined as a ‘public utility.’”
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, voted in favor of the bill but said its passage would set a precedent for pipelines and could affect the existing Colonial Pipeline in South Carolina, should Colonial need to expand its petroleum pipeline.
Hutto served on the subcommittee that gathered testimony from dozens of local residents who oppose the Palmetto Pipeline, along with Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, author of S. 868, and Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
“We actually need pipeline companies. It’s the safest way to transport this. It’s safer than rail. It’s safer than trucks,” said Hutto, predicting that the Palmetto Pipeline would ultimately be built.
Some lawmakers are expecting S. 868. to undergo additional changes before it would clear the Senate.
“We have got to come up with some way to deal with the pipeline issue but at the same time don’t set a precedent that we aren’t going to allow pipelines in this state,” Hutto said.
The question over whether the Palmetto Pipeline is one that merely passes through South Carolina or whether it delivers a meaningful benefit to state residents could also factor into a legal debate, if the company argued its Palmetto Pipeline activities classify as “public use.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the full Senate Tuesday by a vote of 19-1. Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, cast the lone no vote, stating that the proposal “seems to stack the deck against making a good argument for the need, whether it’s national state security needs or energy independence needs.”
Kinder Morgan’s $1 billion, 360-mile Palmetto Pipeline would move up to 7 million gallons a day of gasoline, diesel and ethanol from Belton, S.C., through Georgia and to Jacksonville, Fla.
In Georgia, hundreds have expressed opposition to the Texas company’s threat of eminent domain to secure easements through some of the 400 private properties that lie in the way of the underground structure.
Last year, Georgia’s transportation head rejected Kinder Morgan’s request, and the parties await a court decision.