Eminent domain for pipelines is killed

DENVER – A bill allowing companies to use eminent domain for oil pipelines died Wednesday after sponsors heard an outcry from industry opponents.

Until recent weeks, most opponents of the bill were Northeast Colorado conservatives concerned with property rights. But it was opponents of hydraulic fracturing who sealed the bill’s fate by swamping the phone lines of Democratic legislators.

“It was becoming something that it wasn’t. Perception became reality,” said the sponsor, Rep. Jenise May, D-Aurora.

May asked to have her bill killed Wednesday morning. The action shocked the Senate sponsor, Wheat Ridge Democrat Cheri Jahn.

“The frustrating part for me is the soundbytes that can be used to detract from the actual policy,” Jahn said. “This had nothing to do with fracking.”

Sponsors ran the bill in reaction to a state Supreme Court ruling that interpreted Colorado law to forbid eminent domain for oil pipelines. It is allowed for natural gas and utility pipelines, and until the 2012 court decision, oil companies had operated under the assumption that they, too, could have land condemned for pipelines.

With the bill’s death, both May and Jahn predicted oil companies will rely more on trucks and trains to transport oil, which they said are more dangerous than pipelines.

“They’re going to move the product. You have (oil-based) plastic products everywhere in our society. People put gasoline in their cars,” May said.

But May was unwilling to push the bill through when it would have been a difficult vote for her colleagues to explain to anti-fracking activists. She said she will try to craft a new bill this summer, when there’s less pressure, for the 2015 legislative session.

But Jahn wanted to see it passed this year.

“Disappointment does not begin to say what I feel right now. It should have been an up-or-down vote, and we did have the votes in the House,” Jahn said.

joeh@cortezjournal.com