A crowd of Missourians gathered on April 4 and April 7 in Jefferson City to discuss a Missouri House of Representatives Bill that would stop the use of eminent domain by out-of-state private utility companies, including a proposed transmission line project that would pass through Ralls County.
Rep. Jim Hansen (R-40) sponsored House Bill 1027, which he said focuses on private companies and the right to eminent domain. The bill relates to proposals such as the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, a planned 780-mile interstate transmission line that would send power from a wind farm in western Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and states to the east. The plan from Houston, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners would include a converter station in Ralls County.
Missourians attended public hearings led by the House of Representatives Energy and the Environment Committee regarding eminent domain – a government’s ability to use private property for public use after compensating the owner. About 25 people attended the April 4 meeting to testify against the bill, and 15 people got the chance to speak. The committee continued the hearing to April 7, so supporters and opponents of the bill could address the committee, Hansen said. Opponents of the bill included representatives of Clean Line Energy and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. Supporters included representatives from the Farm Bureau and Block Grain Line Express, a group of Missouri farmers, landowners and residents opposed to the proposal.
Hansen first attended a meeting in January 2014 with Marion County landowners who “had major concerns” with the proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line. He studied the proposal during the next few months, learning that Clean Line Energy could use eminent domain on land in the proposed path. As a result, Hansen, Farm Bureau attorney Terry Jarrett and Missouri Landowners Alliance attorney Paul Agathen worked together on HB 1027.
“This is about your private property rights,” Hansen said.
The bill would essentially add a new section to the Revised Statutes of Missouri, specifying which groups or companies have the right to eminent domain. The bill would grant eminent domain power to groups such as government-related agencies and urban redevelopment projects approved by local elected officials. Also, municipal, state and rural utility cooperatives would still have eminent domain power for their projects.
Specifically, the bill states that eminent domain would be denied to certain electric transmission line proposals, including plans outside of “a regulated regional transmission line planning process,” and proposals constructed with private funds and paid for by users of the line.
Clean Line Energy Director of Development Mark Lawlor said the project would provide infrastructure improvements by sending wind power to Missouri and other states. He said it was “unimaginable” for state legislation to single out a company.
“I think the bill is targeting this project,” Lawlor said.
Lawlor testified in opposition to the bill, saying the proposed legislation “would eliminate an entire section of the electrical industry.”
State Sen. Brian Munzlinger (R-18) said he believes the Missouri Public Service Commission already has oversight authority for transmission line projects such as the Grain Belt Express Line, “and the use of legislation to override the authority of the PSC is premature at this time.”
Some of Munzlinger’s constituents have voiced concerns similar to what he’s heard with previous pipeline and transmission projects. But he expects specific benefits from the Grain Belt Express proposal.
“I am also reminded that these projects, when done within the limits of the law, provide needed revenue sources for our counties and school districts,” he said.
However, Block Grain Belt Express Vice President Jennifer Gatrel said the hearing’s testimonies reflected a consensus among Missouri landowners that the line won’t provide the benefits they expect.
“Supporters stated that the Missouri Public Commission has verified what the landowners have said all along. Clean Line provides no need or benefit to the state of Missouri,” she said. “Additionally, attorney Paul Agathen shared that Clean Line is in the process of attempting to federally override Arkansas, and has an application pending to do the same thing to Missouri.”
Block Grain Belt Express President Russ Pisciotta said group members urge people to write letters to the Department of Energy regarding the proposed use of eminent domain in Arkansas.
“If they get approved for that, it could set a precedent for what happens here, as well,” he said.
The PSC is expected to make a decision on the Grain Belt Express project sometime in the next few months.
HB 1027, however, has an uncertain fate with a month left in the legislative session.
After the House of Representatives Energy and the Environment Committee members vote on the bill, the next step would be a review by the Select Committee on Utilities. From there, the bill would be presented for a vote on the House floor.
The bill would need to go through the Senate before hitting the governor’s desk.
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