With The Largest Oil Find In History in West Texas, Are Eminent Domain Laws Fair?Opinion
Brian McLaughlin’s August 6 piece, “Landowners subsidize pipelines, powerlines,” makes the argument that current eminent domain law is unfair to landowners, yet the actual data shows the opposite.
Since the current eminent domain statute was put into place around seven years ago, the pipeline industry has produced positive outcomes for landowners and the greater Texas economy. That conclusion is supported by data and is hard to dispute. In fact, the majority of Texas pipeline land acquisitions are overwhelmingly successful and result in more than fair compensation to landowners.
To prove this, in 2017, TPA conducted a sampling of 15,000 miles of pipeline that were constructed over the previous six years from almost 35,000 tracts of land. The data shows that the industry filed condemnation proceedings less than four percent of the time, illustrating a 96 percent success rate in negotiating with landowners; less than one percent of the right of way acquired ever went to a special commissioners’ hearing and less than three hundredths of one (0.03) percent ever went to trial. In fact, pipeline operators frequently pay substantially more for easements than the appraised value. We are very proud of that.
It is also important to note that some of these landowners are the beneficiaries of a substantial tax subsidy that Texas law provides to owners of agricultural property (agricultural producers are currently taxed on only a small fraction of the market value of their property.) In consideration of the special tax treatment, it is apparent that owners of agricultural property receive total benefits that exceed those received by owners of property to which no special tax treatment applies. The compensation paid by pipelines to agricultural landowners is far greater than the value upon which those landowners are paying property taxes.
Finally, let’s not forget that in any eminent domain proceeding, the landowner receives the “Landowner Bill of Rights,” written by the Office of the Attorney General, which must be strictly adhered to or the condemnor faces penalties, including paying any landowner’s legal fees.
And, above and beyond these facts, it is patently clear that Texas’ pipeline industry is deeply invested in the communities in which we operate. We are committed to being transparent and to working fairly with Texas landowners with whom we are neighbors and friends. At the same time, we are committed to building the infrastructure that Texas needs to fuel our future and remain the best and safest place to do business and call home.
Pipelines, the main method of transportation for natural gas and fuel in Texas, are a vital cog in the wheel of our daily lives. Expanding energy infrastructure, including pipelines, tanks and terminals, is the best way to increase energy reliability and security and to protect our fuel supply in the event of natural disasters or severe weather.
While we are not opposed to addressing changes that might improve the process for landowners, we feel that proposed changes should result in sound policy and not increased litigation, adding delays to the process and making only the lawyers wealthy.
All Texas consumers benefit from a fair system that provides much needed pipelines, roads, power lines and water lines. That’s why we continue to reach out to the landowner groups, including Texans for Property Rights, to express our desire to work together to identify mutual areas of agreement that would offer a constructive path forward for infrastructure providers and landowners – both of whom make this great state one of the most economically vital in the nation.