Wyden, Merkley Will Introduce Legislation to Defend Property Owners’ Rights from Eminent Domain Claims for Natural Gas Pipelines

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they will introduce legislation that would strengthen the rights of landowners facing eminent domain claims from private companies exploiting public interest provisions to confiscate property for natural gas pipeline development.

Both senators said their bills come in response to the natural gas industry’s increased use of eminent domain for pipeline development and the failure of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to protect landowners’ rights.

Wyden and Merkley said property owners in southern Oregon along the potential pipeline path for the proposed Jordan Cove project provide a clear example of that alarming trend.

“It’s become painfully apparent in southern Oregon and far too many other places that private pipeline companies have repeatedly abused property owners by claiming eminent domain in the public interest, safe in the knowledge that FERC will provide them cover,” Wyden said. “My bill and Senator Merkley’s bill would restore a much-needed balance that defends landowners’ rights with due process that’s both fair and common-sense.”

“For decades, the deck has been stacked in favor of private pipeline companies who can steamroll people’s private property rights to build export pipelines that won’t benefit Americans,” said Merkley. “If big pipeline corporations want to use land in Southern Oregon or across America, they should negotiate with the landowners for that right.”

Wyden’s Reaffirming Property Rights Through Natural Gas Act Modernization Act would end the legal presumption that gas exports are by definition in the public interest, standardize gas developers’ communications to landowners while also setting time limits on FERC actions, set stricter standards on eminent domain claims, provide a more robust appeals process for landowners, and more.

Merkley’s Ending Natural Gas Companies’ Seizure of Land for Export Profits Act would prohibit companies building export pipelines from using eminent domain claims of private lands. In addition, the legislation would affirm that the federal government does not have the authority to allow companies to use eminent domain to seize state land for natural gas pipelines.

 Both senators will introduce their bills when the Senate returns to business in September. Wyden and Merkley also are co-sponsoring the other’s bills.

Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley have demonstrated their leadership in protecting the interests of Oregonians and all Americans by introducing the Reaffirming Property Rights Through Natural Gas Act Modernization Act and the Ending Natural Gas Companies’ Seizure of Land for Export Profits Act. For too long, the byzantine Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has run roughshod over the private property rights of those whose land stands in the path of energy infrastructure projects, but this law would put landowner rights back where they belong: a respected centerpiece of American democracy.”

– Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director & Staff Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center

“We applaud Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their substantive, focused and groundbreaking bills to modernize the Natural Gas Act.  Protection of constitutionally guaranteed property rights is a key tenant of the bill and something every US citizen should support. Thank you Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley!”

– Ron Schaaf and Deb Evans, affected landowners for 15 years by the proposed Pacific Connector pipeline.  

I am very pleased that Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley have finally listened to the landowners who are deeply affected by projects such as Jordan Cove.  For years big gas and big oil have run roughshod over landowners who have limited resources to fight back.  Score one for the “little guy.”

– Clarence Adams, affected landowner in Douglas County and President of Landowners United

“Until now, landowners’ rights in the FERC process have, for the most part, been ignored. This legislation acknowledges that these projects do not happen in a vacuum; when projects are approved, there are lives and livelihoods that are directly and permanently impacted. I am encouraged that Senator Wyden’s and Senator Merkley’s legislation address the fact that landowners have been forced to navigate through a process that seemed designed to discourage their participation.”

– Pamela Brown Ordway, affected landowner in the Douglas County Coastal Zone Management Area

“I am in my eighties, I fought in Korea, and served the public as a Fire Chief for many years; the threat of eminent domain has haunted me and affected my health for more than a decade. Senator Wyden’s and Senator Merkley’s legislation is welcome news and I hope will help me preserve the legacy of my land for my children and grandchildren.”

– John Clarke, affected landowner in Camas Valley

“I am a 3-tour marine Vietnam Veteran, and have spoken to you numerous times at townhall meetings in the Roseburg area regarding the Pembina natural gas pipeline and their wanting to use eminent domain to take my hard earned and fought for land for 16 years.  I was so elated to hear you were coming onboard to help us veterans and other landowners to protect our Constitutional rights. With my waning health and finances, now could not be a better time to introduce this bill.  It’s not right for a foreign entity to take over our rights and our land.  Thank you ever so much for your hard work pertaining to this bill and retention of our rights.”

– Frank Adams, affected landowner in Douglas County

“As a conservative and full-time rancher, my family and I are dependent on the conservation of our land for our livelihood and our way of life. To be swallowed up by corporate America who wants to put their profit ahead of my values, is wrong. It is good to finally see bills that recognize the constitutional rights of rural Americans.  We’ve been stomped on by corporate greed with no understanding of how we operate, our values, and the protection of core property rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”

– Bill Gow, affected landowner and rancher in Douglas County

It is extremely encouraging to see the introduction of the Reaffirming Property Rights Through Natural Gas Act Modernization Act and the Ending Natural Gas Companies’ Seizure of Land for Export Profits Act. When the Pacific Connector Pipeline was initially proposed for natural gas import, national security could be cited as a justification for use of eminent domain. However, export for foreign corporate profit does not justify use of eminent domain and doing away with the statutory presumption of public interest addresses many of our landowner issues. Also, the potential return of property if a project does not proceed is an important aspect of the bill. I have been particularly concerned regarding this issue as we address climate change. This act gives impacted land owners a voice, which we have needed for many years!

– Kristine Cates, affected landowner in Camas Valley

I’m a veteran who gave four years of my life during the Vietnam War to protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans. Yet my rights as a landowner are now being taken away by a foreign company for corporate greed, Senator Wyden’s proposed Reaffirming Property Rights Through Natural Gas Act Modernization Act and Senator Merkley’s Ending Natural Gas Companies’ Seizure of Land for Export Profits Act will right this wrong and protect my property.

– Jim Dahlman, Retired Teacher

“It’s un-American to let corporations take people’s land to build dangerous, polluting fracked gas pipelines. “We appreciate Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley standing up for public safety, property rights, and a stable climate.”   

-Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

“The obligations of condemnors, and the rights of condemnees, are currently undefined by the Natural Gas Act (NGA). In contrast, federal agencies directly utilizing the power of eminent domain have clear appraisal requirements and property rights protections that help build confidence in just compensation determinations. These include real estate appraisals prepared under uniform appraisal standards, coupled with opportunities for property owners to accompany appraisers on inspections to point out unusual or hidden property features that might be overlooked.  The Appraisal Institute applauds Senator Wyden for introducing the NGA Modernization Act, as well as recognizing these important elements and contributions, and our organization urges its swift consideration and enactment.

-Jefferson L. Sherman, MAI, AI-GRS, President

A web version of this release is here.