Remember the standard scene from the old horror movies? Just when the hero sighs with relief that he has finally killed the monster, the damned thing rises up again and grabs the good guy by the throat.
So it is in the Georgia General Assembly. The trans-Georgia pipeline is baaaack. We Georgians are the shocked good guys about to be throttled. We thought we had driven a stake into the heart of the pipeline vampire. Alas, we failed. Senate Bill 173, which would effectively give pipeline companies a blank check to condemn private property in Georgia, is riding a cash-greased rail to becoming law.
The measure eliminates the current requirement that a pipeline company must show “public necessity” to exercise eminent domain for a new or expanded facility. SB 173 deletes requirements for safety monitoring and most environmental restrictions on proposed pipelines.
Foreign-owned Colonial Pipeline is the behind-the-scenes Frankenstein creator of this monstrosity. Its principal public enabler is Sen. John Bulloch of Thomas County. Some of Bulloch’s constituents — well-to-do plantation owners in Southwest Georgia — were flabbergasted at Bulloch’s aggressive advocacy of the bill as it whizzed to easy passage in the Senate and headed for a friendly House.
Ed Holcomb, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s chief aide, also is playing a leading role in support of the Colonial measure. Just a year ago, Perdue and his legislative friends appeared to campaign vigorously against any attempt to expand eminent domain powers.
Old-time legislative observers are baffled by Colonial’s current steamroller. Where did this bill come from and for what purpose? No company has even applied for a petroleum pipeline permit in 16 years, not since Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard pushed and Gov. Zell Miller signed the “public necessity” bill into law.
Conspiracy-minded observers say the Colonial bill paves the way for resurrection of AGL’s $300 million proposed pipeline project that zipped through the Georgia House last year but died in the Senate. That natural-gas pipeline would have been built without state government oversight and with money from AGL’s present residential and small-business customers.
The AGL project appeared stone-cold dead in January when it became caught up in ethics allegations that House Speaker Glenn Richardson engaged in “improper relations” with a blonde AGL lobbyist. Her professional goal last year was gaining approval of the pipeline.
AGL has been careful to keep its distance publicly from the Colonial Pipeline debate, but at least one observer is skeptical. “You can put lipstick on a pig and send her to the dance, but the boys will soon discover that she’s still a pig,” he said. Translation: The Colonial bill is a surrogate sponsor for AGL’s notorious attempt to subvert eminent domain restrictions last year.
Colonial currently has installations in the following counties: Polk, Carroll, Paulding, Douglas, Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Barrow, Clarke, Madison, Hart, Spalding, Monroe, Pike, Bibb, Crawford, Taylor, Sumter, Lee, Dougherty, Baker, Mitchell, Decatur, Upson and several others.
It will be instructive to see whether legislators from those counties support easing regulation of Colonial’s activities or come to the aid of local property owners who fear losing their holdings to the company’s expansionist ambitions.
A bit of history is in order. In 1995 Colonial Pipeline wanted to build a pipeline from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Jacksonville. Seeking to avoid Florida’s tough environmental laws, Colonial planned to run the pipeline through South Georgia, which had virtually no environmental protection rules.
Specifically, Colonial sought to condemn a wide swath through the famed Red Hills region south of Thomasville, one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state. It also is the home of several fabled quail-hunting plantations.
The late Marguerite Williams of Thomasville, a multimillionaire cosmetics heiress and Republican activist with considerable influence among Democrats, led the campaign against the pipeline and in favor of the “public necessity” law, the one currently targeted for repeal. When she prevailed, Colonial and its allies retreated from the legislative scene, not to be heard from again until the current initiative popped up.
The kind of influence exercised by Ms. Williams and her friends disappeared long ago from the Capitol halls. Many affluent and socially prominent Republican leaders were shunted aside and replaced by what has become known as “the snake handlers’ caucus” — ostentatiously religious conservatives and one-time wool-hat Democrats who might be startled to learn that protection of private property rights from eminent domain takeovers was a bedrock tenet of the traditional Grand Old Party of Georgia.
Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org