Feb 7, 2013 10:58 PM by Marnee Banks-MTN NEWS

Eminent domain bill spurs debate over energy and property rights

The passionate battle over private property rights made its way to the Montana Senate on Tuesday.

State Senator Debby Barrett (R - Dillon) is sponsoring a Senate Bill 180 which rolls back the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the ability for private property to be taken for public use.

Barrett says merchant transmission lines should not have the power to take private property and that the law as it currently stand violates private property rights.

Last session, in a heated debate, the Montana Legislature granted merchant lines and public utilities the ability to take private property.

Montana resident and landowner Don Hart was one of several property owners who lined up to testify in support of the bill Tuesday afternoon.

"Don't people know that we have property rights in the United States and in Montana?" Hart asked the committee. "We need to pass Senate Bill 180 and correct the black eye that the Legislature got last time."

Northwestern Energy, Montana Petroleum Association, and the AFL-CIO all oppose the bill saying it would stifle natural resource development if the state were to deny transmission lines the right to eminent domain.

"It's not just about protecting private property and landowner rights, it's also about protecting society," John Fitzpatrick, Lobbyist for Northwestern Energy testified. "But if you listen to the whims of these folks who testify in favor of this bill, you are simply empowering them to control the lands, and land use of their neighbors and the destiny of our cities and towns."

Currently Senate Bill 180 states public utility companies and merchant transmission lines would not have the power of eminent domain. However, Barrett says she will be amending her bill so public utility companies would not be impacted and it would only apply to the transmission industry.


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