News broke last Wednesday afternoon that Kinder Morgan had donated $50,000 to Strom Thurmond High School’s athletics department. And soon thereafter, I began receiving emails, text messages, and phone calls expressing concern about the substantial gift.
As a refresher, Kinder Morgan is North America’s largest energy infrastructure company. It owns or operates more than 84,000 miles of pipelines across the United States, and it has proposed a new, 360-mile pipeline to transport petroleum from Belton, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. The underground pipeline would allow petroleum to travel through Anderson, Abbeville, Greenwood, McCormick, Edgefield, and Aiken Counties before crossing under the Savannah River near Beech Island and continuing on to Jacksonville. The goal is to transport more domestic oil throughout the country so we have to buy less foreign oil.
I have never understood why the United States continues to buy oil from countries that hate us, allowing them to use the very dollars we give them to fund attacks on American interests. That scenario is even more baffling when, by most estimates, we have more than one hundred billion barrels of oil available for production here at home. If we’re going to use oil (and there’s no viable, large-scale alternative for the near future), why not use our own?
Since Kinder Morgan announced plans for the Palmetto Pipeline, though, I have heard from dozens of people with questions and concerns about the project. Many people, understandably, are concerned about the environmental impacts. What will be the effect on the land or the river if the pipeline is constructed as planned? What happens if there’s a leak? Those are legitimate questions that must be answered, as I believe we have an obligation to care for the natural resources God has entrusted to us.
The most frequent complaint I have received is that Kinder Morgan might be able to acquire the property for the pipeline by using eminent domain. Eminent domain allows government and some privately owned public utilities to acquire private property, even when the landowner does not want to sell. The power has traditionally been reserved for projects with significant public benefit: roads, water and sewer, and telephone and power lines.
Kinder Morgan, relying on a vague and broad law from the 1940s, believes it has the authority to use eminent domain for this new petroleum pipeline. I have joined with Sen. Tom Young (R-Aiken) and Rep. Bill Hixon (R-North Augusta) on legislation to stop that overreach. I hope our proposal passes a Senate Judiciary subcommittee this Thursday.
To be clear, I’m not opposed to pipelines. I’m not even necessarily opposed to the Palmetto Pipeline. It makes sense to get domestic oil to as much of the country as possible, and pipelines are generally safer and quicker at distributing oil than trucks. However, I am opposed to Kinder Morgan having access to the powerful tool of eminent domain to accomplish its goal.
Kinder Morgan insists that it rarely uses eminent domain. I suspect that is true. But it is a big stick to hold over a private landowner’s head. A landowner who believes his property is worth more than Kinder Morgan offers – or better yet, does not want to sell his property at all – is at a distinct disadvantage if Kinder Morgan can use the heavy hand of government to take the land when negotiations break down.
In the face of these complaints, and many others, Kinder Morgan has advanced an aggressive public relations campaign in Georgia and South Carolina. Those efforts include significant – and well-publicized – donations to schools in both states. Locally, Kinder Morgan gave $3,000 to North Augusta High School’s robotics team. And now, $50,000 to STHS.
Many of those who have contacted me in the last week have voiced frustration with STHS for accepting the gift. I understand the concern, but I think it is misdirected. I don’t fault Strom Thurmond for accepting a $50,000 check. That’s a tremendous amount of money, and the school can do a great deal of good for many of our students.
My disapproval is directed at Kinder Morgan. These “gifts” are nothing more than obvious attempts to buy goodwill, soften landowners, and persuade legislators to back off on more restrictive eminent domain rules.
Well, I’m not persuaded. If Kinder Morgan wants to construct its new pipeline, it should negotiate with landowners on a level playing field. I will continue to fight efforts by Kinder Morgan – and any other private company that is not a public utility – to use the heavy hand of government to take private land.