Category Archives: Eminent Domain

Property Rights Bill Passes in US House Unanimously

Rep. Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) Property Rights Bill passed the US House of Representatives on July 23, 2018. An article in The Daily Caller for July 25, 2018, says the legislation “would freeze federal economic development funds to any state or local government that seized property from one owner and gave it to another owner for ‘economic development.’ The Private Property Rights Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin in 2017, was co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. It was an undertaking thirteen years in the making for Sensenbrenner, who first introduced a version of the bill after the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision in 2005. It was the fourth time Sensenbrenner had introduced the bill in Congress and the fourth time it had passed in the House.

According to Sensenbrenner’s press release, “The bill addresses the controversial Supreme Court decision in the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the eminent domain power granted by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. In Kelo, the Court ruled that ‘economic development’ can be justified as a “public use” under the Constitution’s Takings Clause. To combat this expansion of power, H.R. 1689 would make any state or locality that uses the economic development justification for eminent domain ineligible from receiving federal economic development funds for two years. This creates a major incentive for governments to respect the private property rights of its citizens. Additionally, the legislation bars the federal government from exercising eminent domain powers for the purposes of economic development.”

The Property Rights and Pipeline Center notes that the bill “has passed in the House several times before but has never gotten to the Senate. Also, this bill excepts pipelines meaning it does not cover eminent domain for pipelines. It ends eminent domain for ‘economic development’ (the issue in the Kelo case),” but adds that the term eminent domain shall not include, “(iv) for use as an aqueduct, flood control facility, pipeline, or similar use.”

The full text of the bill is here.

The Property Rights and Pipeline Center works to connect those fighting for their land against pipelines. They want to unite and amplify the voices throughout the land working to preserve our property rights. Friends of Nelson is part of their network.  Sign up for their occasional e-newsletter list here.

Appeals Court Halts Challenge to FERC Use of Eminent Domain

E&E News reported on July 26, 2018, that “In a high-stakes ruling yesterday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a lower court was right to dismiss legal arguments from a group of Virginia and West Virginia landowners concerned about FERC’s approval of EQT Corp.’s Mountain Valley pipeline. The litigants were taking aim at FERC’s practice of letting pipeline builders use eminent domain authority to take land once their project is approved. That practice is unconstitutional, the landowners say, because it violates property rights protected under the Fifth Amendment. But according to the 4th Circuit, the courts have no jurisdiction to hear the complaint because the landowners didn’t go through FERC’s standard administrative process for pipeline challenges. The ruling affirms the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia’s decision to dismiss the claims late last year….

“Under the Natural Gas Act, pipeline challengers must raise their concerns with FERC and wait for an agency decision on the matter before going to a federal appeals court. The landowners argued that their case, a broad constitutional challenge, is distinct from routine pipeline complaints raised under the NGA. Plus, they argued, waiting for FERC to finish its administrative process would deprive them of meaningful judicial review. The commission routinely issues ‘tolling orders’ to give itself more time to consider rehearing requests from challengers. Pipeline construction and land acquisition are usually well underway before the process is complete.”

Read the full article here.

Pipeline Builders Abuse Eminent Domain

An article in the July 19, 2018, Wall Street Journal discusses the abuse by pipeline builders of eminent domain and the routine barriers that are part of FERC’s process, barriers that deny landowners the right to meaningful appeal. The article covers the variety of ways in which FERC heavily favors pipeline companies over landowners.

Remember comments to FERC on their process are due on July 25, 2018! (see Deadline for Comments on FERC Process: July 25)

No Eminent Domain for Private Gain

Based on the remarkable true story of a small-town Emergency Medical Technician named Susette Kelo, who emerged as the reluctant leader of her working-class neighbors in their struggle to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on using eminent domain to seize land and hand it over to Pfizer Corporation, the movie Little Pink House drew about 175 people to the Stonefield Regal Theater in Charlottesville June 28, 2018, as a fund raiser for Friends of Nelson.

The movie was followed by a discussion of eminent domain as it applies to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, led by Doug Hornig, a writer and former board member of FON, who arranged the showing.

Charles Lollar, an eminent domain attorney who is leading legal efforts to block the use of eminent domain to seize private property for corporate gain, said recent court decisions on the matter have been mixed. He said Dominion Energy, the builder of the pipeline, was trying to forge ahead with construction before the legal challenges are brought to trial.

Lollar urged pipeline opponents to support groups that are fighting to prevent the use of eminent domain, such as the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Appalachian Mountain Advocates (APPLMAD) and Friends of Nelson.

Lollar said later during a question session that the issue of just compensation for property taken under eminent domain ought to be considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “Energy companies should have to pay royalties as long as the project continues,” he said, rather than just a one time payment for a permanent easement.

Rebekah Sale of the Property Rights and Pipeline Center said her organization was trying to bring together hundreds of groups fighting the same battles against eminent domain. She urged residents to write letters to the editors of local media opposing the use of eminent domain for private gain and to keep pressure on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to tighten enforcement of regulations to protect water quality and prevent erosion. She said the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline by residents in its path “is our fight too.”

Sale called attention to the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) project sponsored by the Alleghany Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), which, she said, “is watching Dominion like a hawk.” CSI is flying drones over the MVP route and has caught numerous violations of water quality and soil erosion standards. CSI files reports of violations with state agencies responsible for enforcement.

The audience was reminded several times that the ACP is “not a done deal.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is re-examining whether its processes for granting licenses to construct pipelines is proper, including their examination of the need for such pipelines when a corporation like Dominion establishes need by creating companies to buy natural gas from itself.

ACP has not yet received all the permits needed to begin construction, Sale said, citing the 13,000 comments DEQ has received concerning water quality standards. She said the use of eminent domain was a “flat out injustice” and likened the abolition of property rights to communism. People on both the left and right of the political spectrum should be united on this, she said. “It’s an issue of freedom.”

Richard Averitt, whose land in Nelson County is in the path of the ACP, said Little Pink House is “a hard movie to watch,” since his family homestead and business would have the pipeline going right through it. He said he and his wife Jill were “unwilling to concede the taking at will” of their property.

“The whole principle of economic freedom is the ability to decide what something you own is worth,” he said. “My land is not for sale at any price.”

New Videos from BXE

In preparation for their annual three day sharing/training, art-build and action in Washington DC, Beyond Extreme Energy has produced a series of educational videos on FERC, fracking, and extreme energy, created by Maren Poitras and Andrew Geller. (For information about the BXE weekend event, Crack FERC Open, June 23-25, 2018, go to the BXE Web page.)

Video 1: Are Oil and Gas Pipelines for the Public Good? Through the voices of those directly harmed, this video introduces eminent domain abuses and the growing movement of people from many regions fighting back.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 2: Is Natural Gas a Clean Alternative? The notion that fracked gas is a clean transition fuel is widespread. This video debunks the lie.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 3: Greed Pays: Pipelines and Profits, about how greed and profit are baked into the system.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.

Video 4: What is FERC? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the most dangerous federal agency many Americans have never heard of. We care about FERC because it is in charge of approving–or not–interstate gas pipelines and infrastructure projects. FERC has turned down only 2 gas pipeline projects out of over 500 submitted over the past 30 years. In a world where the impacts of fossil-fuel induced climate change are so clear, and so devastating, it’s absolutely necessary that FERC be replaced with an agency dedicated to an active and just transition off fossil fuels.  View on YouTube.  View on Facebook.