Missouri jobs to come from Grain Belt Express transmission Line
The Missouri House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday prohibiting a private entity from condemning land for electricity transmission.
The vote was bipartisan, and approving the measure was the right thing to do. The Missouri Senate should pass the bill, and the governor should sign it.
The legislation seeks to block the use of eminent domain for the so-called Grain Belt Express, a transmission line for wind-generated electricity. The state’s Public Service Commission recently said the Clean Line Energy company can condemn property for the towers it needs for the lines, which would take wind power from Kansas and send it to Missouri and other states.
We strongly support wind energy. Wind provides more than one-third of the electric energy in Kansas, while it’s less than 4% of Missouri’s power supply. Increasing that number should be a goal in the state.
But we agree with Missouri Republican leadership that allowing a company to condemn property for this purpose is wrong. Clean Line Energy should negotiate fair agreements with property owners for any towers it needs, and pay for the land accordingly.
It should not use the threat of condemnation to browbeat property owners into accepting low-cost deals.
Eminent domain gives government the right to take private property for public purposes. It’s an enormous, dangerous power that must be used only sparingly, if at all.
Missouri’s bill of rights specifically acknowledges that danger. “Private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation, unless by consent of the owner,” the state constitution says.
Like most laws, however, there are loopholes. The state specifically allows private power companies and utilities to use eminent domain. It also allows the use of condemnation to seize “blighted” properties for private development projects.
Kansas Citians know what this means: private property taken for private projects, such as the Power & Light District. Whatever you think of downtown development, taking property from one person and giving it to someone else is a troubling exercise in power, even when the original owner is paid for his or her loss.
On Thursday, speaker after speaker on the Missouri House floor said they were worried not just about the Grain Belt project, but about eminent domain abuse across the state.
“The overall use of eminent domain has greatly harmed black communities in St. Louis,” tweeted state Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Kansas Citians can tell similar stories.
The Hyperloop high-speed train project may require condemning hundreds of privately-owned acres in Missouri. Using eminent domain for that project should be a nonstarter.
Republicans rallied in Jefferson City this week to force a discussion of this issue. Their efforts should be applauded. Eminent domain must always be the last resort for projects of major public benefit, not the first step in making rich companies richer.
There is a way to bring the benefits of the Grain Belt Express project to Missouri. The company can approach landowners and offer enough money to rent or buy the land it needs. The heavy hand of government should stay out of it.