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December 14th, 2022
By Megan Chase-Muller
Upstate Forever believes in public accountability when utility companies make decisions that affect communities and landscapes across the Upstate. We support any effort to build public trust in the utilities that heat and supply electricity to our homes.
New regulations proposed last year at the South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) would help increase transparency in the construction of natural gas pipelines and use of eminent domain by pipeline companies.
The PSC is accepting comments from the public until January 5th, 2023 on these proposed regulations, and they need to hear from residents and advocates like you to better understand your community’s needs.
Comments can be as short or extensive as you would like! Just be sure to tell your story and communicate why this matters to you. Remember, this is not just a property owner issue – all gas customers end up footing the bill for pipeline projects, so we need more public accountability throughout the entire process.
Send your comments to email@example.com with Docket No. 2022-360-A in your subject line.
Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to take private property for public use, with compensation to the landowner. In South Carolina, state law allows certain natural gas utilities (i.e., Piedmont Natural Gas and Dominion Energy) to use eminent domain for new pipeline projects, even when those projects cannot be utilized by all members of the public.
The PSC essentially functions as a court for regulating utilities in the state, and after (not before) new pipelines are built, the Commissioners review proposals by utilities to raise customers’ bills to pay for recently-completed pipeline projects. In short, every natural gas customer — also referred to as a “ratepayer” — is on the hook for paying for pipelines that might not directly benefit them, and may not be necessary.
When pipeline companies notify landowners of their intentions to build a pipeline through their property, there is a wide range in the level of detail they provide, and landowners are often left frustrated.
In meeting with landowners to help them understand the potential environmental impacts to their property, Upstate Forever has witnessed far too many incidents that demonstrate a breach of trust and lack of oversight in the pipeline construction process. We have spoken with landowners who were kept in the dark about the extent of the proposed pipeline, and some who were made to believe they had no option but to hand over their property rights.
Even when utilities attempt to provide information to the public and hear their concerns, a lack of codified methodology can lead to confusing messaging and unanswered questions. Changes to the PSC’s pipeline regulations are needed to provide a baseline so that utilities can provide the information landowners deserve to hear in a uniform and transparent manner.
Regulatory solutions proposed at the PSC would address the issues outlined above, in addition to protecting property rights, ensuring community input, and protecting ratepayers from paying for unnecessary proposals. The regulations would also establish a “landowner bill of rights” published on the PSC’s website and distributed to landowners along proposed pipeline routes.
Our hope for these regulations is that by clarifying the entire process and answering questions on the front end in public meetings and the other methods described in these proposed regulations, these changes could actually result in a reduction in the number of disputes between utilities, landowners, and ratepayers and build trust among our communities.
Currently, there is no extensive approval process for natural gas pipelines, and cost-recovery remains the only response afforded to the Commission. In the absence of Commission oversight for pipeline approval, our state needs some mechanism for public accountability.
Summary of Proposed Regulations for State-Regulated Gas Utilities, Article 4 – Gas Regulations, Subarticle 9.
Remember: The PSC is accepting comments from the public until January 5th, 2023 on these proposed regulations, and they need to hear from residents and advocates like you to better understand your community’s needs. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org with Docket No. 2022-360-A in your subject line