New regulations for petroleum pipelines in Georgia passes Senate

The Senate for the second time has backed a measure to rewrite the rules for building petroleum pipelines in Georgia, as lawmakers try to craft a compromise after controversy forced a temporary moratorium last year.

The 43-8 vote Tuesday sends House Bill 413 back to the state House, which originally passed the measure as a public utility bill. A Senate committee added the pipeline regulations just a few days ago, after their original pipeline bill, Senate Bill 191, ran into a roadblock in the House.

The measure would set new limits on the ability of pipeline companies to use eminent domain — an involuntary seizure — for surveying and acquiring private land.

Under the proposal, companies would not be able to use eminent domain unless they went through a two-step process. That would include approval for a “certificate of need” from the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as a permit from the state’s Environmental Protection Division.

The potential changes to the state's existing Pipeline Act, passed in 1995, come after a joint legislative commission met across the state last year seeking residents' thoughts on how to allow petroleum distribution while also respecting safety and property rights.

Environmental advocates had urged lawmakers to include banning new pipelines within 50 miles of the coast, but that provision has been dropped from the bill.

The current moratorium is set to end June 30. As a safeguard, the Senate also added an amendment to a separate bill that would extend the moratorium to 2020 should HB 413 not pass.

Lawmakers agreed to the original moratorium after public outcry over a proposal to build a 210-mile-long petroleum pipeline along the Savannah River and coastal Georgia. The decision led energy giant Kinder Morgan to suspend work on what was known as the Palmetto Pipeline, a $1 billion project that would have run from South Carolina to Florida.

With Senate passage, HB 413 now heads back to the state House for review with only one day — Thursday — left in this year’s legislative session.