‘Eminent domain’ debate back before lawmakers
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A recent Supreme Court decision allows property owners to challenge a pipeline company's eminent domain authority.
The ruling is why pipeline companies and operators, or those representing them, called on lawmakers at the State Capitol Monday.
Land owner Julia Trigg Crawford says she was sued by TransCanada when she refused to turn over part of her land for a pipeline.
"The process lacks any real oversight by any empowered and engaged state agency," she said.
Crawford’s story resonates with many Texas landowners. She argues no state agency is checking to see if the pipelines are actually qualified under Texas law to use eminent domain as a common carrier.
A common carrier is a pipeline that transports goods to or for the public, and are for hire by the public.
"Our issue is to make sure those who exercise eminent domain as common carriers have the legal authority to do so," Rep. Rene Olivera said.
A Railroad Commission official told lawmakers the agency processes thousands of pipeline permits each year. He says applicants check a box on the application form promising to be a common carrier, but the commission doesn't verify the claim.
“If everybody plays by the rules, eminent domain is a good thing, but it's basically the honor system. You get to check a box off and designate whether you're a common carrier or not," Crawford said.
Some pipeline operators say the Railroad Commission should have that oversight, and it’s better than forcing companies to fight legal battles in multiple courts if the pipeline crosses multiple counties.
Land owners and advocates say more hearings need to be held along proposed pipeline routes, rather than just in Austin, so landowners can go and speak out.
They are also calling for an update to the Land Owner Bill of Rights so land owners know they have a right to challenge a pipeline company's claim to eminent domain.