Private property rights took precedence over other concerns Monday as scores of people turned out to comment on a draft environmental impact statement prepared for a proposed clean-energy transmission line.
Those concerns were expressed during one of several public hearings sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The hearings are part of the approval process for a high-voltage transmission line that would carry wind-generated electricity from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tennessee.
The transmission line, which has been in the works since 2010, is being proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston. The proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project represents part of a $2 billion investment, about half of which is expected to be in Oklahoma.
Most of those who spoke in support of the project were representatives of various companies or economic development organizations. They favored the project based upon projected job growth.
Others who spoke in favor included renewable energy advocates who expressed concerns about the impact that fossil fuels have on the environment. But even among the green-energy proponents, there were some with reservations about the 700-mile transmission line.
But owners of property that lies in the path of the proposed transmission line were the most vocal of those who turned out for the public hearing. They stood united in their opposition to the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private business interests.
“I’m opposed to the use of eminent domain,” said David Gray, a property owner from Vian who was protesting outside the Muskogee Civic Center. “I’m not opposed to wind energy. … I’m opposed to eminent domain.”
Natalie Fulbright joined a chorus of others who oppose the transmission line based upon concerns of tribal sovereignty. Fulbright said she also has concerns about the proposed route for the transmission line, which reportedly follows or crosses the Trail of Tears.
“My great-great-grandfather was forcibly removed by the United States government from … Georgia to Oklahoma,” said Fulbright, who lives on Sequoyah County land allotted to her family. “That trail is paved with my ancestors’ blood, and many of my family members died along it.”
Among those who expressed support for the project was Whitney Pearson, an associate field organizer with the Sierra Club chapter in Oklahoma City. However, Pearson, during her comments on behalf of the Sierra Club, also expressed concerns about private property rights.
“Sierra Club has heard concerns raised by several communities about how construction of this transmission line will affect their enjoyment of the natural environment in their region or disrupt their livelihoods,” Pearson said. “We believe the Clean Line Partners should take these concerns seriously and work with landowners and others to identify an acceptable route.”
The transmission line, if approved, would originate near Guymon and cross Oklahoma and Arkansas before it terminates near Memphis, Tenn. The line is expected to deliver enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes throughout the southeast United States.
The hearing Monday was part of the public participation process overseen by the federal energy department. The process includes a public comment period on the environmental impact statement scheduled to end March 19.
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