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Missouri lawmakers pass eminent domain bill without Grain Belt poison pill

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Missouri lawmakers pass eminent domain bill without Grain Belt poison pill

May 10, 2022 | 9:28 pm ET
By Allison Kite
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Missouri lawmakers pass eminent domain bill without Grain Belt poison pill
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A visualization shows what the Grain Belt Express transmission line would look line running across a farmer's land. Invenergy is acquiring 150-200 foot easements from landowners to build (Courtesy of Invenergy.)

Companies looking to build large electrical transmission lines in Missouri may soon have to pay landowners more and provide more of the transmitted power to customers in the state.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House passed eminent domain legislation that adds more protections for Missourians when companies condemn land to build transmission lines. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to Gov. Mike Parson. 

Republican members and farm groups have been trying for years to pass a version of the bill that would have killed the Grain Belt Express, a 4,000 megawatt transmission line expected to run clean energy from Southwest Kansas across Missouri and Illinois, ending at the Indiana border. 

The bill that passed Tuesday, to Democrats, was a more tolerable version of eminent domain reform that did not target Grain Belt. But it still faced some vocal opposition, clearing theSenate last week on a party-line vote.

“There are many folks on my side of the aisle that are glad that we’ve sort of broken that impasse and Grain Belt can now be transmitting that renewable energy across the state of Missouri,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette.

Parson’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Grain Belt’s developer, Invenergy, has been working for years to develop the line through Missouri. To do so, it needs easements on landowners’ property across eight counties in northern Missouri. It has obtained thousands of parcels through negotiations with landowners. 

But in the event landowners refuse to make a deal, it can use eminent domain to gain rights to their land through the court system

In those cases, the bill requires companies to pay landowners 150% of the fair market value on their land. It would require that developers start construction within seven years of getting easements; otherwise their rights to the property would expire. And it would require that court-appointed commissions tasked with determining the fair market value of a farmer’s land during eminent domain proceedings include a farmer who has lived in the area for at least a decade. 

Finally, where previous versions of Grain Belt legislation have required that at least 50% of the power carried by a transmission line be kept in the state for use by Missouri customers, this bill would require that transmission lines be set up to provide an amount of power to the state proportional to the length of the line running through Missouri. 

Previous bills targeting Grain Belt would have given county commissions, in essence, veto power over projects approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The bill House members passed Tuesday would not. 

An Invenergy executive praised the language when it passed the Senate last week, calling it a “win-win for Missourians.” 

Democrats in the House and Senate stood opposed because the bill only enacts new eminent domain protections in the case of electrical transmission lines, not other projects, like natural gas pipelines or roads. 

McCreery and Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, expressed frustration at the disparity.

McCreery said the bill wasn’t true eminent domain reform because it doesn’t tackle other uses of eminent domain, such as condemnation of St. Louis residents’ land to build shopping centers. 

“There are folks that live within a few miles of many of us who had their homes taken at way less than 150% of value for walmarts and shopping centers to be built,” McCreery said. 

She added: “Eminent domain should not be used to build Walmart Supercenters in a low-income area.” 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, said a joint committee on agriculture planned for this summer was expected to discuss eminent domain reform more broadly. 

“Because you’re right,” he said. “This is a small part of a much bigger picture that we need to address.” 

McCreery also called the legislation short-sighted. As the country increasingly moves to renewable energy, McCreery said the electrical system will rely on large transmission lines that would be harder to build under the legislation.