Pipeline moratorium gains final approval

Legislation creating a temporary moratorium on petroleum pipelines in Georgia is headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

The House voted 116-48 to give final approval to House Bill 1036, which would place a temporary moratorium on pipeline companies' ability to use eminent domain — an involuntary seizure — for surveying and acquiring private land.

During the moratorium, the state’s existing Pipeline Act, passed in 1995, would be studied for potential changes. The moratorium would end on June 30, 2017, after a state commission issues its findings and lawmakers possibly act on them.

The legislation was inspired by a controversial proposal to build a 210-mile-long petroleum pipeline along the Savannah River and coastal Georgia by energy giant Kinder Morgan. A Fulton County judge ruled earlier this month that the Texas company can't use eminent domain to take property from unwilling landowners for the project. The ruling upheld a May 2015 decision by the state to deny Kinder Morgan a certificate of "public convenience and necessity," a permit that would allow the pipeline builder to secure its route.

The bill passed after the House beat back an amendment that would have allowed permits to be issued and for the company to purchase land while the state studied the issue. The Senate, too, defeated a similar measure.

The version that passed Tuesday is a major victory for environmentalists and a defeat for business interests who wanted the company to be allowed to continue its work.