Last September, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 4673, “Reaffirming Property Rights Through The Natural Gas Act Modernization Act.
This bill has a number of noteworthy provisions that provide needed protections for landowners nationwide facing increased and unfair use of eminent domain for pipeline development.
If you have not already reached out to your senators to encourage them to consider this bill, please do! The bill has been referred to the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The best way to keep the bill moving forward is to encourage a hearing!
Please reach out to your Senators today, particularly if they are members of the Commerce Committee.
Provisions included in the bill are outlined below;
- Sec 2 -Establishes that there is No Presumption of Public Interest in the export of Natural Gas.
- Sec. 4 Ensures Notice to Landowners occurs in a clear and uniform way, and that all impacted
persons have the information needed to intervene in the process.
- Sec. 5 Lays out Requirements for Exercise of Eminent Domain, stipulating that pipeline
companies obtain all other required state and federal approvals and permits before construction
- Sec. 6 is a Requirement to Execute Project Only for Certain Purposes – that is, according to
the plans provided to FERC with its application. This prevents a bait-and-switch.
- Sec. 7 ensures that companies cannot “sit” on undeveloped confiscated land for more than one year without proceeding, or if a project does not go ahead as planned, this provision also ensures that property reverts back to the previous property owner.
- Sec. 8 Ensures that in the event eminent domain is exercised, property owners are more fairly compensated
- Sec. 9 eliminates FERC’s historic practice of using “tolling orders,”
Two articles of interest to landowners with ACP easement agreements.
We remind our readers that the easements are not gone now that the ACP has been cancelled, and that under the law, landowners still do not have full use of their land. For example, unless ACP formally releases them from the easements, they are not allowed to build on it. And if they want to sell it, those restrictions carry with the land.
An August 15, 2020 article in the News and Advance, A look at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline easement process that left Nelson landowners $15 million richer, reports extensively on easement payments in Nelson County, including a chart by categories showing total amounts of compensation for easements signed by Nelson landowners. Note that the headline is deceptive, as more than half of the $15 million went to a very few landowners, and most received far less. Nor did this article take into account the 30% cut that lawyers got, or the thousands of dollars in other fees (like appraisers) that some landowners had to pay to be able to fight to get for the settlements they actually got, or the income taxes most of the landowners had to pay on this “windfall”.
An August 15, 2020 article by Irene Leech, Landowners be advised, in the Friends of Buckingham newsletter suggesting landowners “may want to take any available opportunity to express the desire to have damage repaired and to regain easement ownership to political leaders and company representatives.” The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have bisected Leech’s Buckingham County family farm for 1.1 mile and her home in Montgomery County, VA is within the evacuation zone of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
When the U.S. declared the discovery of natural gas reserves large enough to propel the country to energy independence, property owners in West Virginia could never have imagined how that discovery might affect them. CBSN Originals and ProPublica traveled to West Virginia’s “gas patch” to meet landowners Beth Crowder and David Wentz, a once-married couple who found themselves in the crosshairs of Big Gas and joined forces to fight back.
From the Allegheney-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #226 for April 18, 2019
ABRA has asked the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) why it has proclaimed that its review of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) covered “every foot” of the project, when recently discovered evidence contradicts that. In an April 19 letter to DEQ Director David Paylor, ABRA Executive Director Lewis Freeman called attention to a recent controversy concerning a proposed 5-mile ACP access road in Bath County (see related Recorder newspaper articles in News You May have Missed, below). Freeman’s letter noted that DEQ staff had recently told ABRA that the agency “was not aware of the proposed road because it had not been submitted to your agency as part of the plans submitted by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC). However, the road in question was part of the plans submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and approved as part of the certificate issued for the ACP.” Continuing, Freeman’s letter states:
DEQ informed the State Water Control Board during its consideration of approving a 401 certificate for the ACP that it had reviewed “every foot of land disturbance proposed by ACP related to pipeline construction” (see page 8 in DEQ’s 10/19/18 report to the Water Board). Why was this statement made to the Water Board when it was not true? Can you provide clarification?
The access road in question crosses an environmental easement held by the Virginia Outdoor Foundation (VOF) and was proposed by ACP, LLC and approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission without consultation with VOF. VOF wrote FERC on April 9 taking strong exception to the situation.
Wintergreen Property Owners Association released this statement on December 19, 2018:
Following extensive negotiations, Wintergreen Property Owners (WPOA) and Dominion Energy have reached a financial settlement related to the condemnation of WPOA property for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Terms of the settlement are confidential.
The WPOA, while understanding the principle of eminent domain, remains opposed to the chosen location of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through its property. Like other landowners having property taken through eminent domain, WPOA had no good legal remedy to fight the condemnation of our land. While the settlement eliminates a costly protracted legal battle over condemnation, it leaves open other legal options to protect our community and allows our community an opportunity to move forward.
The Lynchburg News & Advance reported on February 27, 2018, that, “Hours before their case was scheduled to go before a federal judge, Will and Lilia Fenton, owners of the Nelson County-based Fenton Inn, reached an understanding with Atlantic Coast Pipeline, allowing the project ‘immediate access’ to their property.” Fenton said they decided to allow ACP immediate access because “we didn’t think there would be any positive results for going to court [for] this particular [issue],” and added that the access understanding should not be a reflection on his family’s feelings about the pipeline, and that they have fought both the pipeline from its inception, especially the concept of eminent domain.
The News & Advance article also reported that other cases were argued in federal court in Lynchburg on Monday and Tuesday. “Lawyers representing the landowners and ACP attorneys questioned a handful of witnesses Monday and Tuesday, focusing on why ACP would need immediate access to the properties in question; potential harm to landowners; and how the easement negotiation process works, including how ACP determines the compensation it offers landowners for temporary and permanent rights of way.”
In the hearing, ACP witnesses discussed the land acquisition and appraisel processes, as well as the “irreparable harm” the ACP would suffer if not allowed to proceed. Landowners testified about the harm to their properties and businesses.
Judge Moon had not issued an opinion as of February 27, but said he hoped to do so in the “next day or two.”
Read the full article here.