Bill aimed at pipeline routing oversight reaches committee

Legislation aimed at requiring energy companies to notify elected officials when there are plans to condemn private land for future projects has made its way to committee.

House Bill 3327, authored by State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) was laid out in the Land and Resource Management Committee April 25. If approved, HB 3327 would require pipeline operators with eminent domain authority to send a written notice of intent to county judges before contacting landowners. This notification would initiate a process for the county commissioners to exchange information with the operator about public infrastructure, planned developments, site-specific safety concerns, and environmental sensitivities.

Currently there is no public routing process for intrastate transmission pipelines in Texas, and only the pipeline operator determines the route.

Zwiener said legislation would enable county governments to share site-specific concerns with pipeline operators early enough in the process to potentially impact the route. Zwiener brought this bill and others in direct response to Kinder Morgan’s 42-inch, 430-mile Permian Highway Pipeline, a proposed natural gas pipeline that could cut through the Texas Hill Country, including Hays County.

In mid-April, Hays County and Kyle joined a lawsuit filed against Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission in order to create more oversight for the pipeline routing process, the Hays Free Press reported.

“By the time Kinder Morgan reached out to our local elected officials, they had already chosen a route,” said Zwiener in a statement. “But they didn’t have local on-the-ground information about planned developments, road reroutes, and the countys’ open space plans. Their maps even showed outdated city boundaries, and they skipped reaching out directly to at least one city where they’re planning to build.”

Zwiener said there should be “full and transparent communication” between carriers attempting to route a pipeline and potential county governments that could be impacted.

“Companies should know their full liabilities and have the ability to understand their siting prior to beginning the eminent domain process,” Zwiener said. “With this bill, we’ll create a faster and fairer procedure for all parties involved in the pipeline laying process.”

The Land and Resource Management committee also heard several other bills related to eminent domain including Senate Bill 421 and House Bill 991 authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst and Representative DeWayne Burns, respectively. These bills would set up minimum easement standards, provide protection from low ball offers, and require a landowner meeting. Zwiener is a co-author of HB 991.

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