A bill that prevents oil pipeline companies from forcing South Carolina landowners to sell their property through eminent domain is now heading to the governor.
The Senate agreed to House changes Thursday that would put a three-year ban in place on a private company using eminent domain unless the company is also regulated by the state as a public utility. The measure has passed both chambers by a combined 127-3 vote.
It 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.
Lead sponsor State Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said there were concerns that South Carolina’s eminent domain laws had not been addressed in more than 60 years. “This legislation is intended to protect the private property rights of citizens,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But it does not stop a company like this from being able to start a project, as long as they are able to negotiate the acquisition of private property through the free market.”
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. However, the AG’s opinion also warned the matter would likely be settled by courts if South Carolina legislators did not make the law clearer.