Extending Eminent Domain to Pipeline Companies

According to companion bills H.4326 and S.868, pipelines for transporting petroleum products are “vital to the welfare of the people of this State” and, thus, the companies that own and operate them should be granted the power of eminent domain. For an analysis of our government’s abuse of eminent domain power, read our research here.

It is critical to note that Article 1, Section 13 of the South Carolina Constitution states that private property must not be condemned by eminent domain for the purpose or benefit of economic development, unless the condemnation is for public use. The idea of public use has been stretched to incorporate public utilities (electric lighting and power companies, water supply companies etc), but it has not yet been expanded to the point of including use by any private company.

In fact, a recent opinion from the Attorney General’s office held that under current law eminent domain cannot be exercised for the purpose of petroleum pipelines. According to the Attorney General’s Office, the placement of the statute granting eminent domain powers to pipeline companies into a section of the code dealing with public utilities, together with the legislative history of the act – the act was created after a court case concerning the eminent domain powers of a natural gas pipeline company – both indicate the law wasn’t intended to extend to oil pipelines. The Attorney General’s Office further pointed out that a South Carolina court has never held an oil pipeline to be a public utility, and that there is no history of decisions classifying the services of an oil pipeline as a “public use.”

Citizens have a right to be secure in their property. That oil pipeline companies “need” private land does not afford them the right to take that land without the owners’ consent. Allowing them to do so is both unjust and arguably unconstitutional.

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