Local

Why Opposite Sides Unite To Oppose Pipelines In Georgia

Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro last year opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.
Most people at a public hearing in Waynesboro last year opposed the use of eminent domain to build the Palmetto Pipeline.
Credit Molly Samuel / WABE

 

Anti-pipeline activists from across the country met in Atlanta this week to talk strategy. The summit brought together two groups that are often on opposite sides: environmentalists and property-rights advocates.

Those strange bedfellows joined forces this year to fight two pipelines in Georgia. The Palmetto Pipeline would have carried petroleum down the coast, but that project is now off the table. The Sabal Trail Pipeline, which would carry natural gas across southwest Georgia, could still happen.

“This unusual alliance, there has been a lot of talk about that,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the executive director of the environmental group Savannah Riverkeeper. “I would say that it wasn’t that unusual. It was the right alliance.”

This week’s summit was organized by national foundations including the Rockefeller Family Fund. Bonitatibus, who attended, said there are a few other examples around the country of environmentalists teaming up with more conservative-leaning property-rights advocates, but she’d like to see more.

“This is a really good example of the kind of coming-together that we need to see not only here, but throughout the nation,” she said. “My hope is that maybe this fight and others coming up can continue in that vein of working together.”

One bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Georgia Legislature this year, put a moratorium on using eminent domain for petroleum pipelines until June 2017. The bill also created a study committee, so lawmakers and officials can review Georgia law. Republican state Rep. Bill Hitchens introduced it in response to the proposed Palmetto Pipeline.

Hitchens said he was struck by the public outcry against the pipeline, including at a public hearing last year where hundreds of people turned out.

“I’ve never seen such frustration on the part of the public about something that a private company was going to do,” he said.

“Most of them understand the necessity for having right of ways for power lines, and even natural gas and certainly for roadways,” Hitchens said. “But this was a private, for-profit company that’s going to make a lot of money off this.”

South Carolina just passed its own bill in response to the Palmetto Pipeline.

The Sabal Trail Pipeline, which could still go through, would carry natural gas across southwest Georgia to Florida. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given it permission to use eminent domain.