Legislation Would Modify Eminent Domain

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) has introduced legislation that would require pipelines seeking to seize private property for projects to personally notify affected landowners by certified mail of their intention at the outset of FERC proceedings, giving them the opportunity to "participate meaningfully" in the process.

The bill was proposed after 50 landowners of Marion County, TN, complained they were taken by surprise when United States Gypsum Corp. sought and received from FERC the right to seize interests in their property to build a small gas pipeline through the county to serve a new plant to be sited in Bridgeport, AL (See 'Massey Questions...' page 1). Thompson and other lawmakers sought rehearing of the Commission's decision and a stay of construction, but their requests were rejected.

"...[W]hat I find especially troubling is that these private landowners - my constituents - were never given personal notice that their land could be taken for this private pipeline project," Thompson remarked. Current regulations require only that a notice be published in the Federal Register, a publication that isn't regularly read by landowners. "In this case, our constituents just felt that they were completely run over," a spokeswoman for the senator told NGI. "It seems like it's only common sense that nobody would object to requiring written notification by mail at least. That seems to be the lowest common denominator."

Although it was not addressed in the legislation, Thompson raised some concern about private companies being allowed to exercise eminent domain altogether.

"I wonder whether some greater public benefit needs to be demonstrated than simply the economic value of having a new company locate in the region," as in the case of U.S. Gypsum. "...[W]e are talking about a situation where a private company is essentially being allowed to stand in the shoes of the federal government and seize an interest in the property of ordinary citizens, but without committing that property to the direct use and benefit of the larger public."

Susan Parker

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