Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on the suspension of Palmetto Pipeline:
Georgians who support private property rights and protecting the environment should cheer Wednesday's surprise decision from Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan that it is suspending its $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline project.
There was no official word from the company about when or if the project would be revived, but that door was left open — meaning the project isn't officially dead.
The unexpected announcement comes on the heels of a recently concluded session of the Georgia Legislature when lawmakers approved a moratorium on the pipeline until July 2017. The bill includes a provision for a 13-member commission to recommend changes to the way the state evaluates pipelines. Gov. Nathan Deal has until May 3 to sign the measure.
Kinder Morgan had planned to build the Palmetto Pipeline to transport gasoline and diesel fuel from Belton, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla. The project includes construction of a terminal near Richmond Hill to serve gasoline customers in the Savannah area. The company had already secured contracts to transport fuel in the pipeline, with construction initially scheduled to begin this spring.
The company's announcement, which was released on its website, was brief, but noted the company's disappointment in Georgia lawmakers:
"Kinder Morgan has suspended further work on the Palmetto Pipeline project, following the unfavorable action by the Georgia legislature regarding eminent-domain authority and permitting restrictions for petroleum pipelines," the website said. "While this legislative action was disappointing, we remain committed to providing customized transportation solutions to our customers."
The pipeline plan riled property owners along its proposed 210-mile path in Georgia. Those landowners, along with environmental groups and businesses such as Savannah-based gasoline distributors Colonial Group, formed an unusual coalition united in opposition to the private company's ability to use eminent domain. The company's biggest failure was its inability to prove that the pipeline would provide enough public benefit to justify using eminent domain to condemn private property in the pipeline's path.
Our land, history and heritage are important. And while we also support private enterprise and competition in a free economy, which have helped make this a great nation, a for-profit company should not be able to leverage the power of government through eminent domain for the benefit of private stockholders.
Kinder Morgan had hoped to make a one-time payment for the easement for its underground pipeline, but the repercussions of the agreement are everlasting. Landowners wouldn't be able to cross the easements in heavy equipment because of the risk of damage to the pipeline — damage for which the property owner would be held financially accountable. Their lands would become more open to illegal hunters, trespassers riding four-wheelers and more, which also would pose threats to a pipeline.
Meanwhile, in many cases, Kinder Morgan would have cut through precious resources such as 1,000-year-old cypress swamps and lands within conservation easements — all for their profits and their suppliers' "benefit."
Worse, Kinder Morgan had plowed forward with an arrogant sense of entitlement. It kept its plans shrouded in secrecy, refusing to release maps of the pipeline route. As has been reported, Kinder Morgan survey crews trespassed on private property after being told to stay out.
When confronted by a deputy, one crew supervisor said, "You can't stop the pipeline. They have enough money to push the pipeline through the county."
It's true that Kinder Morgan, the nation's fourth largest energy company, has plenty of money. Fortunately, there are still some things that money can't buy.
Public arguments against the pipeline prevailed in May when state transportation officials denied Kinder Morgan's request for eminent domain. The company lost its appeal of that decision in February.
Still, corporate officials vowed to complete the pipeline without eminent domain, though they couldn't provide an example of a similarly large pipeline that had been built without that power as a fallback.
The approval of a pipeline moratorium by state lawmakers blocked that strategy, even though the measure's main purpose is coming up with a better plan for routing pipelines through Georgia. The 13 members on the study committee will be charged with taking a comprehensive look at the impact of petroleum pipelines on private properties, the environment and the economy. Everything is connected. It's not in the public's best interest to force a pipeline through an area where it poses major risks, in return for little or no economic benefits to the public.
It's better to weigh these factors in a wider context, especially since pipeline accidents have the potential to cause great harm. Lawmakers, to their credit, overwhelmingly approved the pipeline bill with a 165-2 vote in the House and 53-1 in the Senate. We encourage Gov. Deal to sign the approved bill.
A related measure approved in the Senate urges the state Department of Transportation and electric companies in Georgia to allow use of their exiting rights-of-way for pipeline expansion. That makes sense. Why trample on private property rights or disturb sensitive or fragile areas when other options exist?
In the meantime, Kinder Morgan's suspension of the project is a welcome and responsible decision from this corporate giant since it will give the study commission time to do its job before moving forward.
The Macon Telegraph on Georgia Senate Bill 323:
The new, wet-behind-the-ears head coach for the Georgia Bulldogs, Kirby Smart, is being named the chief instigator of an amendment to Georgia Senate Bill 323. That measure will give athletic departments and organizations, both public and private, 90 days instead of three to respond to open records requests, an exception being certain salary information of nonclerical employees. Certainly he was being an advocate for his football team. However, there is something much more sinister going on here.
The amendment was attached in the waning hours of the session, before the majority of the lawmakers — except those who planned this strategy — had a chance to look at it. Senate Bill 323 was supposed to simply close a loophole that was inadvertently in the 2012 legislation to keep competing states from gaining an unfair advantage while prospecting for new industries. So why do we think this was a sneak attack? Coach Smart visited the Capitol in February. The amendment wasn't even brought to the floor for debate, of which there was none, until after midnight March 23.
Initially, the ruse was blamed on protecting recruiting secrets. State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, a co-author of the amendment, told this paper that the amendment "just allows us to play on the same field as Alabama and everybody else." Like most politicians, he fumbled his facts. No other SEC school has more than 15 days to answer an open records requests. Besides, media outlets get most information from the recruits themselves or their families.
So what would a big-time athletic program such as UGA and its associated foundations want to hide? That might be a question for Georgia's athletic director, Greg McGarity. Don't expect a straight answer.
McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald that answering the 100 open records requests his office received since December was too taxing. But apparently it was not taxing enough to stop UGA's athletics department from spending more than $500,000 on private aircraft zipping around the country on recruiting trips from December through January. That same athletics department has a $117 million budget for this fiscal year and is getting ready to build a $30 million indoor practice facility. Is McGarity actually saying he can't afford to hire someone to answer open records requests? Given 90 days, any irregularities, NCAA investigations and double-dealing could be well-hidden from the public's prying eyes.
There is a simple solution to this chicanery: the veto pen of Gov. Nathan Deal. Certainly Deal wants the meat of Senate Bill 323, but it has hung fire for four years. One more year won't hurt. Coach Smart deserves better than to have this sad Machiavellian tale hung around his neck. Bring Senate Bill 323 back next year, the right way, without the baggage.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on welfare reform:
Welfare "reformers" in the political ranks have occasionally taken on an irksome posture: They flatter themselves that they, and a few courageously like-minded, are the only ones who share the conviction that adults capable of finding honest employment should have to do so.
That's a self-servingly nonsensical political conceit, of course, and one not limited to the subject of welfare: Pose oneself as a bold crusader for something pretty much everybody already agrees with anyway.
The recurrent flaw in so much of the welfare "reform" groundswell of a couple of decades ago was a chilling political recklessness about unintended, though hardly unforeseeable, consequences. (In the case of some of these "reformers," an assumption that these consequences were indeed unintended might have been an overly generous benefit of the doubt.)
The most foreseeable consequence, of course, was potentially devastating collateral damage to dependent children with no power over, or responsibility for, the lives of their parents or guardians. That some of the most ill-thought-out formulas for cutting public assistance rolls were put forth in the name of "personal responsibility" has always been beyond grotesque.
The politicians who came striding into editorial board rooms with welfare reform plans, only to be stumped by one simple question — What would you do about dependent children? — would disgust anybody with a functioning moral mainspring.
Georgia is one of the states that has moved to address that ugly flaw in public assistance overhaul. As of last Friday, several thousand Atlanta area food stamp recipients who failed to meet a deadline for employment, or volunteer with a charitable organization, or enroll in a job training program have, at least temporarily, lost their benefits.
The critically important clause: This pilot program, which has already been launched in other states, restricts the policy to able-bodied adults without dependent children.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about how carefully those targeted for this tough-love approach are screened; and even when food stamp recipients diligently look for jobs, that doesn't mean the jobs will necessarily be there — or, at least, be there for them.
Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, chaired a legislative committee on welfare fraud in the most recent session of the General Assembly.
"Even opponents of the new rules," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, "acknowledge that the public largely expects that an able-bodied, childless adult receiving public assistance should look for work, and that the government should demand that."
The government should also keep tabs on how well or poorly pilot programs like this work, and why. Otherwise it's just another, if slightly more nuanced, example of a simple response to a complex problem.
"It's not just going after poor people," Clark told the AJC. "We have to find a way to motivate them." Agreed — provided the implicit assumption isn't that the only real cause of poverty is a lack of motivation.