Morris: I won't apologize for voicing objections

One of the nation’s largest energy companies, Kinder Mor­gan, wants to build a major petroleum pipeline from South Carolina to Florida, crossing coastal marshes, rivers and hundreds of miles of private property.

 

The pipeline would allow Kinder Morgan to undercut the prices of its competitors in moving oil from the Gulf Coast to Jacksonville. Most of its 360-mile length would be located in Georgia, which would serve as little more than a pass-through state in getting refined oil products from Point A to Point B.

Confronted with growing opposition, the vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan had this explanation: “What’s different about this project – unprecedented – is that a landowner controls three major newspapers along the pipeline route.”

Given that I am this unidentified landowner, allow me to respond.

Yes, my company does publish three major newspapers along the route.

Yes, the pipeline would run through our property.

No, I do not want it.

But allow me to add this as well. The opposition forming in Geor­gia and South Carolina to this project may be as wide a coalition as I’ve seen. It includes state and local politicians, led by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, as well as business leaders, environmental groups and families whose property has been in their families for generations.

Even the Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner refused to grant Kinder Morgan certification necessary to use eminent domain. A decision they are now fighting in court.

Now, outside of college football, we Southerners tend to be a pretty humble bunch. But this is a time of passionate involvement with a cause.

No number of ink barrels could accomplish that. The Morris newspapers are not Kinder Morgan’s problem.

Kinder Morgan’s plans, Kinder Morgan’s arrogance and Kinder Morgan’s safety record are Kinder Morgan’s problem.

I acknowledge my conflict of interest on this issue and have been wholly transparent in disclosing it.

But because of my personal situation, I am not going to hold back the news staffs of our newspapers in aggressively covering a story that is of great importance to our region.

And in that coverage, Kinder Morgan will be given ample opportunity to present its case for the pipeline.

Neither am I going to hold back my personal views in forums such as this one, which will be clearly delineated from the newspapers’ standard editorial content.

I readily concede that I have a privileged platform. But I do not apologize for making use of it given the circumstances.

Kinder Morgan is the fourth largest energy company in the nation. It owns an interest in or operates approximately 80,000 miles of pipelines. It has unlimited resources, an army of lawyers and consultants, and a massive public relations division to push its interests.

But no marketing campaign can spin away the threats this project poses, both to the environment and private property rights, and I intend to make sure they are disclosed.

This pipeline will cross a water supply used by more than 1.5 million Georgia residents. One accident, and Kinder Morgan has been guilty to plenty of them, could shut off the faucets.

The damage to rivers and marshes, and abutting communities, likewise could be devastating and long lasting.

To build its pipeline, Kinder Morgan does not have to fairly negotiate with landowners. Rather, it relies on the threat of eminent domain to remove their ability to negotiate, using the power of government to reduce its costs and increase its profits.

Condemnation should be a tool of last resort for governments pursuing an overriding public interest. Just where, I ask, is the public interest in this pipeline?

It will not make our nation more energy secure. It will not lower the cost of gasoline one cent for the people of South Carolina, Georgia or Florida. It will not address any regional shortages because the areas through which the pipeline would run already have abundant delivery capacity to meet their needs.

The sole purpose of this pipeline is to give Kinder Morgan a competitive advantage over other suppliers. The jobs Kinder Morgan professes to create will be greatly outweighed by the hundreds of jobs that will be lost when those suppliers have to lay off workers.

I have no problem with competition and profit. I celebrate both because they have made this a great nation.

What I do have a problem with is a corporation leveraging the power of government to unfair advantage through the use of eminent domain.

And in this case, Kinder Morgan is doing so with an arrogant sense of entitlement.

It has kept its plans shrouded in secrecy, refusing to release maps of the pipeline route. As has been reported, Kinder Morgan survey crews trespassed on private property after being told to stay out.

When confronted by a deputy, one crew supervisor said, “You can’t stop the pipeline, they have enough money to push the pipeline through the county.”

Kinder Morgan is a private company. Every time they do this is for the benefit of their private stockholders. Should Kinder Morgan be allowed to use the power of eminent domain for the benefit of private stockholders?

Obviously I am not poor. But certainly I do not have Kinder Morgan’s money and resources. What I do have is a voice, and one that represents the vast majority of voices on this issue. And I plan to continue using it as this debate continues.

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