A bill that prevents oil pipeline companies from forcing South Carolina landowners to sell their property through eminent domain has now reached the full state House floor. The legislation that passed the House Judiciary Committee would only allow eminent domain to be used over the next five years if the company is regulated by the state as a public utility.
The measure was drafted in response to a proposed Kinder Morgan “Palmetto Pipeline” that would have run through western South Carolina from the Upstate until crossing into Georgia just south of Augusta. But that project was scrapped in March after Georgia lawmakers blocked it.
Despite the pipeline’s cancellation, legislators from Aiken and Edgefield counties — where Kinder Morgan faced its strongest South Carolina opposition — are moving to get the bill passed anyway. Supporters are buoyed by a state Attorney General’s opinion last summer which speculated a court would likely rule existing state law already keeps private companies from using eminent domain, which must be done for the public’s overall benefit.
But those in the industry question why the change is necessary. Colonial Pipeline’s representative Will Kinny said the company “prefers not to use eminent domain,” but has in the past. “The availability of eminent domain is an important tool that ensures no single landowner can prevent the development of vital infrastructure projects that benefit the entire community,” he told a House panel last week.
However, the bill’s lead supporter in the House said the same language had passed the Senate as a compromise in March. “(Colonial Pipeline) was at the table and… this is the wording you all worked out,” State Rep. Bill Hixon, R-N. Augusta, told Kinney. “You all were happy with it then, but all of a sudden the game changes and you’re not happy with it.”
If passed in its present form, the ban on eminent domain would need to be renewed after five years.
Legislators only have two weeks remaining in the year’s regular session before adjourning for the summer.