McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Pipeline bill a bad idea for Colorado
Usually, when someone or some company decides to take another’s property, you hear some of the loudest words of condemnation over such actions. Rightly so, too.
That’s what you might start to hear, perhaps tomorrow, in the state Capitol building, when the Colorado House is scheduled to take up a bill that would grant the power of eminent domain to oil companies that want to install pipelines across private property. Senate Bill 14-093 has had a somewhat rocky road so far and is the second such bill in two years that tries to address what supporters consider a “mistake” in a 2012 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that denied eminent domain to oil companies.
The court ruled that the statute oil companies relied upon to allow them to place pipelines for close to 100 years pertained only to natural gas pipelines and other public utilities.
The bill would place pipeline siting jurisdiction at the local level, but allow assistance from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to help determine if the siting is appropriate.
The bill has already passed the state Senate and will be considered for approval by the full House, after several amendments and even the withdrawal of its main House and Senate sponsors, Sen. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge), Rep. Jenise May (D-Aurora) and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).
Among those supporting the bill are the South Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
It’s attracted opposition from groups like the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club, Colorado Counties, Inc. and activists such as Anita Sherman of Garfield County. Former county commissioner Arnold Mackley brought the bill to my attention and expressed concerns that it might allow energy companies to basically run roughshod over landowners who don’t go along with their plans to install pipelines across their property. Mackley has had several natural gas wells drilled and pipelines installed on his property, south of the Colorado River.
Sherman recently sent a nearly 3,000-word missive to state lawmakers and other officials that said, among many other things, that the bill is unconstitutional and that “It’s clear Colorado has been hijacked by the largest property owner and private interest in Colorado through our legislative branch, when the laws legislators are trying to pass serve private interests instead of the public good.”
Sherman went on to criticize county commissioners from Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Montezuma, Weld, Elbert and Otero counties, and others, for “acting in harmony with industry interests, using legislative powers to change compliance language in comprehensive plans through advisory committees without putting the question to ballot.”
Sherman claimed the bill also puts the burden of property protection on landowners and public trusts to defend their property rights.
“The governor’s attempts to remove the split estate to expedite industrial development with legislators moving bills forward to crisscross our state with pipelines to transport toxic fuels under eminent domain powers is failed policy,” she wrote.
On the surface, this bill does seem to be headed in the wrong direction. It’s one thing for public utilities to have eminent domain powers; they’re doing so to bring something necessary to the public and not making a huge profit. For huge oil companies that regularly report profits in the billions of dollars – and more – to be allowed to do so is wrong.
As Arnold Mackley told me, we don’t need to see even more pipeline corridors going everywhere and anywhere, instead of locating them all together to minimize the disturbance and the aesthetics of the land.
As I’ve said and written before, the oil and natural gas development process is an industrial process by its nature. You can’t avoid that process. But you can do it the right way. This bill is not the right way.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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