Our state’s agriculture industry cannot succeed in feeding the world without the hard work of Missouri’s farmers. That is why it is critical to protect basic constitutional private property rights for farmers to work their land and earn enough to support their families and communities. It was encouraging to see hundreds of our farm families travel to the state Capitol recently to make their voices heard on eminent domain abuse by private companies seeking to build merchant transmission lines for profit. These proposed mega-structures would send electricity beyond Missouri’s borders, and the profits to out-of-state investors. Our farmers have sent a clear message that constitutional property rights should not be for sale to the highest bidder.
A multi-billion dollar company that has filled President Joe Biden’s campaign coffers with tens of thousands of dollars and led by a CEO the national media refers to as “America’s New Wind Billionaire” is on track to acquire private Missouri farmland to construct the Grain Belt Express, a nearly 800-mile long merchant transmission line through the heartland. Clean Line Energy dropped this boondoggle after years of failure to identify government loopholes to exploit in order to make a profit. Then, a non-utility company with a lobbying budget in the millions, picked up where Clean Line left off by hijacking Missouri law to gain the government power of eminent domain. A key buzzword in the new liberal lexicon is “equity,” but it would be a stretch for any commonsense Missourian to find fairness in any of these actions. The company’s main argument now — filtered through corporate — is that it would be unfair to them for the legislature to “retroactively” protect constitutional property rights.
This debate is not about utilizing eminent domain for legitimate infrastructure or utility purposes. Missouri has a proud and storied past as a frontier for infrastructure, from our country’s greatest manufacturers taking advantage of our central location, to the first miles of interstate laid right here that helped build modern America. Development and growth have occurred because of infrastructure projects that served the common good through eminent domain. These pillars of progress in our past should be celebrated. But the purveyors of the “Green New Deal” movement have pulled a fast one on Missouri regulators, and we must draw a line in the sand when private companies manipulate our laws to serve only their bottom line and not the citizens of our republic.
I’ve listened closely to our farm families. Others are listening as well, and commonsense legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate will give a voice to our farmers and those most affected by the Grain Belt Express. Our urban newspapers claim this mega-transmission line is about progress and green energy while conveniently disregarding the thousands of farm families affected. I will say with confidence that these sentiments only drive a further wedge in our rural communities and do nothing to help bridge the rural-urban divide in our state. I imagine some attitudes would change overnight if the government granted carte blanche to an out-of-state investor-owned private company forcing the installation of 150-foot superstructures running from the west through Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis County, and St. Louis City.
Clear abuses and manipulation of our eminent domain laws must end, and it begins by standing in defense of our farmers. We need eminent domain reform now to protect every Missourian’s constitutional private property rights and to stand up to Biden’s billionaires. If acted upon, the commonsense language in HB 527 and SB 508 would place a necessary check on government power granted to private companies seeking eminent domain to build merchant transmission lines. The Missouri Senate again has an opportunity to listen to our family farmers and approve these critical measures by Friday. Without it, thousands of livelihoods and our state’s number one industry will remain under threat, and our state will be the superhighway for profit-seeking companies to further abuse and manipulate our laws for their private gain.
Sen. Bob Onder is a Republican senator who represents SD 2 in St. Charles County. He is the chairman of the Senate Health and Pensions Committee.