An environmental-law firm has filed a “motion to intervene” in a lawsuit filed by Texas energy company Kinder Morgan, which is seeking to build a 360-mile petroleum pipeline from Belton, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla.
GreenLaw, based in Atlanta, filed the motion July 28 in Fulton County Superior Court on behalf of several environmental organizations, including the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Savannah Riverkeeper and Center for a Sustainable Coast.
The motion claims that state law gives these groups “an unconditional right to intervene,” and the groups say that not being allowed to intervene “may as a practical matter impair or impede their ability to protect” their interest — in this case, the environment of coastal Georgia.
In May, the Georgia Department of Transportation denied a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which is required for the pipeline to be built. Palmetto Products Pipe Line LLC, which is owned by Kinder Morgan, filed an appeal in Fulton County Superior Court in June, stating in part that the GDOT’s decision infringed on the utility’s rights by violating state law, that the GDOT exceeded its statutory authority, that the decision was “clearly erroneous” based on “substantial evidence on the whole record,” that it was “arbitrary or capricious” and that the GDOT “unreasonably withheld” the certificate.
“In its motion for intervention on behalf of the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha and Satilla riverkeepers and the Center for a Sustainable Coast, GreenLaw is seeking the right of these groups to be parties to Palmetto’s appeal to insure that their interests are adequately protected,” said Steve Caley, GreenLaw’s legal director, in an emailed statement to the Bryan County News. “Palmetto’s proposed pipeline, if approved, would run roughshod through 210 miles of largely pristine Georgia land without any public necessity, public use or public good, which is required in order to use the draconian remedy of eminent domain — a remedy that Palmetto seeks in this case.”
Melissa Ruiz, the manager of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan, said Tuesday in an email response that the company is “not commenting on the intervenors or any part of the judicial proceedings related to the appeal.”
If ultimately approved, 210 miles of the Palmetto Pipeline would be built in Georgia, including 39 miles in Effingham County. A terminal is proposed for Bryan County that would house six to eight tanks, some of which could as much as 100,000 barrels of oil and that would move up to 25,000 barrels of fuel products per day.
The certificate is needed to allow Kinder Morgan to invoke eminent domain to pass the pipeline through property whose owners do not want to negotiate, or do not accept a negotiated offer, for compensation in exchange for the right of way to extend the petroleum pipeline.
The environmental groups’ motion to intervene gives several reasons why they say the court should uphold the GDOT’s decision, which GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry communicated in a May 18 letter to Kinder Morgan:
• Coastal Georgia already has “healthy competition” for gas, “abundant supplies and reasonable prices,” as demonstrated by an admission by Palmetto Products Pipe Line LLC (which is part of Kinder Morgan) that at least 75 percent of the region’s petroleum needs “are satisfied by a combination of two existing pipelines and tanker trunks” and that the rest is supplied “by two competing ocean terminals through seven separate suppliers.”
• Palmetto “is only a transporter of petroleum products” and, as such, “cannot provide any assurance that its shippers will actually delivery any fuel anywhere in Georgia.”
• Savannah currently receives 20,000 barrels of fuel per day, and Palmetto “might” deliver 25,000 barrels per day to the Savannah market. Because Palmetto’s stated amount is more than the current demand, “the simple result would be that Palmetto’s shippers would displace all current suppliers — hardly a healthy outcome for competition and reasonable prices.”
• Even if Palmetto’s transportation costs are lower, which can’t be proven because the utility “repeatedly has refused to disclose the rates and terms of its contracts with its shippers,” the utility has “admitted that it cannot give any assurance that those lower costs would be passed onto Georgia consumers in the form of lower fuel prices.”
• The U.S. Energy Information Administration has compiled data showing that gasoline and diesel usage in Georgia has dropped 14 percent since 2002 and that demand is expected to keep declining in the South Atlantic region over the next 25 years, despite projected increases in population and miles driven, because of expected increases in fuel economy.
• The motion also asserts that Kinder Morgan “has an odious record of numerous criminal convictions and tens of millions of dollars in civil and criminal fines over a long period of time for safety violations, accidents and criminal behaviour. Kinder Morgan’s pipelines have leaked, ruptured or exploded, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, economic damage, bodily injury and death.”
The intervenors represented in the motion are the two local riverkeepers, plus the Altamaha Riverkeeper and Satilla Riverkeeper.
“We have every hope that this will be a successful intervention,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper, in a news release issued Monday. “We represent the citizens of our watershed whose voices have not been heard in the appeal, and look forward to working with state officials to protect Georgians from this abuse of eminent domain.”