Summarized from The SC Policy Council:
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee met on the State House grounds on Tuesday October 20, 2015 to consider a bill that would give eminent domain powers to a private company.
Eminent domain is the government’s power to take private land for monetary compensation. Originally eminent domain was only supposed to be used for clearly outlined “public purposes” – the building of a highway, for example – but the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision of 2005 has allowed state and local governments to take land for all sorts of reasons. Even under the best circumstances, eminent domain power can easily lead to gross violations of citizens’ right to own property. The Doodle Trail in Pickens County can be your local example.
That leads us to the bill now in the General Assembly. It was crafted in response to efforts by energy corporation Kinder Morgan to build a pipeline for petroleum products. The pipeline would originate in Belton, South Carolina and terminate in Jacksonville, Florida. The corporation believes it already has eminent domain powers under existing South Carolina law, but the Attorney General’s Office says it does not. The bill has the potential to resolve this conflict in favor of the corporation.
The state constitution reads that eminent domain shall not be used to condemn private property, unless the taking is for a public use – projects such as roads and parks. But nowhere in the constitution or code is “public use” defined, leaving it open for public officials to interpret more or less as they wish.
The constitution also allows eminent domain to be used as a remedy for “blight.” Not only is the term “blight” expansively defined; the constitution allows land condemned for "blight" to be put to private use.
State law already grants eminent domain powers to privately owned utilities – telephone companies, electric lighting and power companies, water supply companies, pipeline companies, and canal companies.
Rather than repairing the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago, South Carolina lawmakers may be poised to chip away at South Carolinians’ property rights even further. Handing out eminent domain rights to private companies would do exactly that.