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Legislators, landowner groups rally in support of eminent domain legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A pair of bills meant to reform Missouri’s eminent domain policies, which would hamper the Grain Belt Express project, drew a crowd of supporters to the statehouse Wednesday, including several elected officials.

Sen. Jason Bean’s SB 508 and Rep. Mike Haffner’s HB 527 would require projects seeking approval for a merchant line to provide the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) with a resolution of support from the commission of each county it would pass through. The bills would also restrict projects, excluding those operated by an electric cooperative or a nonprofit, from constructing above-ground transmission lines using eminent domain. 

The legislation arose from property rights concerns raised by several landowners along the Grain Belt project line. Bean said neighboring states already have similar laws on the books. 

“This bill is about one thing: private property rights,” Bean said. “Grain Belt Express is a terrible precedent for property owner rights and creates the opportunity for Missouri to be exploited by out-of-state special interests. I hope we Missourians don’t allow our property rights to be trampled while neighboring states make prudent decisions to protect their most valuable natural resource: land.” 

Bean joined Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, House Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe for a rally in the statehouse Wednesday afternoon hosted by a coalition of groups, including the Missouri Landowners Alliance and the Missouri Farm Bureau. Kehoe, who penned a recent editorial advocating for the bills, said Senate leadership would do what they could to pass the bill this year, assuring the audience that Gov. Mike Parson would sign off on the measure if it made it to his desk. 

“Our No. 1 priority is keeping the government out of your life,” Kehoe said. “If this is not the most egregious way the government comes into your life — I don’t want to live the nightmare you have to live by putting up with this.”

The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy, and the Environment Committee heard Bean’s bill during a packed hearing Wednesday morning, where 19 witnesses testified in favor of the legislation. Landowners and county officials passionately backed the restriction. 

Nicole Lucky, vice president of regulatory affairs for Grain Belt’s parent company Invenergy, was among the nine witnesses testifying in opposition. Lucky pointed to the fallout of February’s cold weather event as an example of the need for clean energy transmission.

Missouri Public Utility Alliance President and CEO John Twitty also spoke against the measure. Twitty said the bill would put a legal liability on the state for a project approved through typical regulatory means.   

“When a utility company or anybody else has the right of eminent domain comes to buy people’s land, it gets emotional,” Twitty told The Missouri Times. “There are economic benefits and tax revenues that if some company came wanting to make this kind of economic development investment in Missouri, 99 out of 100 times the state would be doing anything they could to get that investment.”

“The bipartisan Missouri Public Service Commission unanimously approved the Grain Belt Express as a public utility project because of the tremendous public benefit it will bring to the Show-Me-State,” said Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conely. “With attention focused on reopening Missouri’s economy, retroactive, anti-business legislative attempts to halt this project would shut another door for Missouri landowners, workers, businesses, and energy consumers.”

Haffner’s bill passed through the House in February. The measure is awaiting a hearing before the same committee.

The Grain Belt project would develop an overhead and direct transmission line of approximately 780 miles delivering wind energy from western Kansas to utilities and consumers in Missouri and other states, according to its website. It would extend through eight Missouri counties: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Monroe, Randolph, and Ralls. It was approved by the PSC in 2019.

The project said it would deliver about 4,000 megawatts of renewable power and clean energy to about 1.6 million homes per year and create new jobs — including both permanent and temporary construction work. It is also expected to include broadband infrastructure.

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