What was the Georgia Legislature’s role in Palmetto Pipeline

| September 21, 2015

Georgia Government

ATLANTA — While there’s little doubt about legislator sentiment regarding a proposed petroleum pipeline in East Georgia, there is a question of what they may do next about it.

Plans by Texas-based Kinder Morgan for a $1 billion, 360-mile Palmetto Pipeline to carry gasoline, ethanol and diesel fuel from the Gulf Coast to South Carolina and then south along the Savannah River to Savannah and finally Jacksonville sparked outrage from environmentalists, competitors and the hundreds of property owners who fear their land will be seized without their agreement.

The concept became public near the end of this year’s legislative session, prompting lawmakers to pass a resolution sponsored by Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, urging the company to locate the pipe along existing road and utility rights of way wherever possible. Company officials haven’t released a detailed map of the route they want, but they have said most will indeed be along establish rights of way.

Burns’ resolution won unanimous support in the House and Senate, and since then, his Republican House colleagues elected him majority leader. That makes him a powerful force in the legislature.

Just days after Burns became the leader, Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry ruled Kinder Morgan had not proved why there was a public necessity for the pipeline that would justify granting the company power to seize land from unwilling owners, a legal authority lawyers call eminent domain. The fact that Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters a week before what McMurry’s decision would be indicates the governor is a likely ally of those wishing to stop the pipeline.

What Deal said, though, was he thought the issue was one for the courts to decide. And Kinder Morgan attorneys quickly filed suit, setting the stage for a hearing Nov. 13 in Fulton County Superior Court.

That date makes it possible for Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams to rule before the General Assembly convenes in January, leaving an opening for lawmakers to act if they see the need.

Legislators say they’re deciding what their next move is.

“There was discussion back when this was hot and before the ruling about dealing with this in the legislature this year. That has kind of dropped off the radar,” said Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah.

For now. Burns will call House Republicans this fall to set the majority party’s agenda.

“When we get together to start to talk issues, I suspect this will be one of them,” Petrea said.

The Senate majority caucus, also controlled by Republicans, meets Oct. 12 to have a similar discussion.

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