a hot potato
Of the hundreds
of bills that will be filed in the legislative session that begins
this month, Missouri’s electric cooperatives will be
paying the most attention to those that deal with the eminent domain
issue. In all my time working with Missouri’s legislature on a
wide variety of issues, I’ve never seen a potato as hot as this
Eminent domain is
the right of government or other entities to take private property
for public use. It became the issue when the U.S. Supreme Court passed
judgment on a controversial Connecticut case.
At stake in this
case was whether a city could take land using eminent domain and then
give it to a developer. In its decision last June, the court ruled
that taking land for economic development purposes qualified as a “public
That decision stirred
up a hornet’s nest of debate
and caused Missouri’s
Gov. Matt Blunt to form a task force to look into the matter. The governor’s
task force heard suggestions from property owners, local electric co-ops,
chambers of commerce, businesses, cities, other utilities and many other
organizations. Now it’s up to the legislature to look at the committee’s
recommendations and decide whether or not to change Missouri’s law.
we shaped our position on this issue, it became apparent that Missouri’s
electric cooperatives needed to meet with a broad coalition of groups,
like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, to find common ground. Of special
interest was the Missouri Farm Bureau because we share so many members
and both of us represent rural people. I am pleased that Farm Bureau’s
President Charlie Kruse felt the same way and wants to continue working
Your electric co-op
is keenly interested in this issue because from time to time all utilities
must acquire right of way to build new power lines, substations and
power plants. Ninety percent of the time, electric co-ops are able
to come to terms with those involved in such a project.
But on those
rare occasions when eminent domain must be used, it is critical in
order to keep our supply of electricity reliable and affordable.
In fact, Missouri
has one of the nation’s most affordable and
reliable power supply systems because of our ability to build when
electric co-ops are all for fairness when it comes to dealing with
landowners. Where we draw the line is with people who believe nothing
should ever be built anywhere. For our state to progress, to attract
new jobs and keep the ones we already have, our system of power supply
must be able to grow as more people and businesses move into rural
In deciding when
to use eminent domain, electric co-ops strive for balance. That’s
because the person we are negotiating with in most cases is
a cooperative member and owner.
As Missouri’s leaders work on
refining this political hot potato, we will do our best to continue
handling it with your best interests in mind.
Hart is executive
vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.