Lobby Beats Little Guy | Green Arkansas

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lobby Beats Little Guy

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 4:11 PM

Jonathan Dismang's bill limiting the ability of pipeline companies to claim eminent domain to obtain right of way for their own private lines failed in the House Agriculture Committee this morning. The vote (9-6) was cast along party lines with only Reps. Nickels and Betts - both (D)s - able to put aside politics and vote for a good bill. In last week's issue of the Times, I wrote about one landowner from Faulkner County who was having trouble with this very issue. She is a 70 year-old great grandmother who was bullied by Arkansas Midstream into signing away rights to her property which they have run rough-shod over.

During the hearing, a number of people spoke both for and against the bill. Rep. John Lowery seemed particularly bent on killing it, at one point interrupting the meeting to make a motion. Committee Chair Roy Ragland cautioned Lowery, making the point that a lot of people had come from a long way to state their case. It appears as though Chesapeake and their lobby were quite successful in turning out their side. Around seven or eight landowners claimed Chesapeake had been nothing but benevolent in their pipeline negotiations and had even offered more than the land was worth. Each landowner that spoke on behalf of Chesapeake said the exact same thing. This tested the patience of the committee. Ragland even said at one point, noting the short window of time the committee had for debate, "If you're here to say that dealing with Chesapeake has been great, then I think that's been established."

Among those speaking for the bill were the Fayetteville Shale Citizens Association, the Arkansas Conservation Alliance, representatives from the White County and Arkansas Farm Bureau, state representatives, as well as individual landowners. Those speaking against included an attorney for Chesapeake and a number of landowners.

Supporters main concerns centered around the ability of a private company to claim eminent domain for a gathering line. The state, and other utilities can claim eminent domain if they are a common carrier, that is, if the public benefits from their use. Some gas pipelines are common carriers (i.e. those that carry gas from state to state, or those that are used by numerous gas companies, like transmission lines). At issue in today's debate were gathering lines, lines used by one company to get their product to other common carrier lines. According to Dismang, pipeline companies have been operating in the state for years without claiming eminent domain, but lately one company, Arkansas Midstream, has been using the threat of eminent domain as a first option.

Speaker of the House Robbie Wills (D) said the vote had nothing to do with politics. There were rumors that there would be some political retribution for Dismang's "no" vote on the cigarette tax and his posturing with Dick Armey and other opponents. Wills said that was not the case and his vote came down to the fact that there is a case waiting to be appealed to the state Supreme Court to resolve this issue, that constituents were against it and there simply wasn't enough time to determine whether this was a good bill or not.

Chesapeake's lobby has been out in full force. Dismang said he received calls from constituents who had been robocalled by Chesapeake, telling them to call Dismang and express their opposition to the bill. Dismang said he called every one of those constituents back and after speaking with them for awhile, EVERY ONE of them came around to his way of thinking.

Republicans tend to side with big bussiness but in this case Dismang was trying to stand up for landowners of this state who have been screwed by companies too big to take on. Allowing these companies to claim eminent domain and take land wherever they please is giving them a license to operate with impunity. There is no incentive for them to conduct business in a fair and considerate manner.

Dismang said he will run the bill again. Here's how the vote broke down:

Rep. Curren Everett (D) - No
Rep. Gregg Reep (D) - No
Rep. Monty Davenport (D) - No
Rep. Bill Sample (R) - Yes
Rep. Robbie Wills (D) - No
Rep. John Lowery (D) - No
Rep. Joan Cash (D) - No
Rep. Lance Reynolds (D) - No
Rep. Jim House (D) - No
Rep. Bryan King (R) - Yes
Rep. Mike Patterson (D) - No
Rep. Terry Rice (R) - Yes
Rep. Robert Dale (R) - Yes
Rep. Monty Betts (D) - Yes
Rep. Jim Nickels (D) - Yes

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