Suppose The Blade editorial board wanted your house. The bedrooms would make good offices, and your living room would make a great conference room for meetings. It might be reasonable for a Blade representative to make you an offer. But if a private company such as The Blade could take your house against your will just because it wanted to use it for its own private purposes, you wouldn’t be very secure in your property. So that kind of taking cannot be allowed.
Someone needed to tell the biggest energy-infrastructure company in North America that. And Judge Robert Pollex of the Wood County Court of Common Pleas has done so.
Kinder Morgan Utopia had filed suit to take an easement across land belonging to PDB Farms in order to run, not offices and conference rooms, but a pipeline for a petroleum product. Ohio laws do grant some private companies the right, under some circumstances, to take ownership of land or an easement over it. (An “easement” is a legal right to use someone else’s land.) Those companies include common carriers, such as railroads, which is at least somewhat defensible: Privately owned railroad tracks, like publicly owned roads, benefit the public because anyone can travel or ship goods over them. But in this case, the court said, “Kinder Morgan is not offering its services to the public or even to an unlimited number of commercial enterprises.” The pipeline wasn’t even supplying energy to the public. It was designed to provide material for one Canadian company to use in making plastic. The court ruled that it was not a common carrier. Kinder Morgan said it would appeal.
There is nothing wrong with transporting material through a pipeline to Canada to be used in making plastic. That is a perfectly fine private purpose. But it is a private purpose, pursued by a private company. And eminent domain, the power to take land against the owner’s will, should be reserved for public agencies pursuing public purposes.
A lawyer for the landowners said companies were more and more aggressively using eminent domain to run pipelines across the Midwest. That should not be allowed. Judge Pollex’s decision, if it stands, will help the landowners in this case and perhaps some others. But the General Assembly should revise the laws so that private companies cannot take people’s land, and the legislatures of other states that have the same problem should do likewise.
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