Aug 13, 2014 6:58 AM
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Some Texas attorneys think proposed changes to state eminent domain rules for oil and gas pipeline operators don't go far enough to protect people from the companies that take their land.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/Vkemg9 ) reported Tuesday that the Texas Railroad Commission is accepting public comments on the proposed changes until Aug. 25.
The commission is responsible for 426,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas, hazardous materials and other substances. Critics of the commission have said it rubber-stamps pipeline applications.
The changes are designed to provide more transparency when a pipeline operator seeks "common carrier" status. That's a designation that automatically gives the operator the power of eminent domain to seize land.
Companies that want a permit for a new pipeline currently check a few boxes on a state forum to designate themselves as a common carrier. There is no public hearing and no notice to landowners is required. Once the paperwork is filled out the company has the authority to condemn property through eminent domain.
The rules, if adopted, would require pipeline operators to submit a sworn statement and, if asked, provide documentation and any other information needed to support the application. The commission would have 45 days to review the permit. There would also be new provisions for renewing or amending a permit to revoke a pipeline permit after a hearing.
The commission's general counsel says the changes would bring "greater confidence" in the common carrier classification and provide more "certainty for both pipelines and landowners."
Zach Brady, a Lubbock attorney who represents landowners in eminent domain disputes, said the new process is a lot like the old one, just with a few more pieces of paper.
"I think that is an extraordinary amount of power for a company to have over someone's property," Brady said. "I don't think they solved the problem."
Luke Ellis, an Austin attorney specializing in eminent domain cases, said pipeline operators refuse to show in court why their pipelines should be common carriers, claiming it is proprietary information.
"There needs to be more meat on the bone to prove common carrier status," Ellis said. "There isn't any routing process that exists."
Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association, said the group is preparing comments and reviewing over the proposed rules. He characterized the changes as "more burdensome."
"The pipeline industry thrives on a predictable regulatory environment," Cannon said. "And as long as we know the rules, we will abide by them."
Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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