Mr. ARCURI. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
My amendment would remove the right of a private company with a project that has already been approved by FERC to use the Federal Government's supreme power of eminent domain to take private property from landowners. Contrary to what the utility companies claim, my amendment would not leave an approved company without any recourse.
No, instead it would merely require the approved company to follow the existing State law procedure for obtaining a right-of-way. States have laws that help companies with approved power projects obtain the necessary right-of-ways, and these laws work. They have worked for many years. I know of no power line project anywhere in the country that has ever failed to be completed once it had been approved and the company held the necessary permits to begin construction.
We understand that there are serious energy needs facing this country that must be addressed swiftly and judiciously. All this amendment does is permit an already approved company from using Federal eminent domain to drag a property owner into Federal court and take his land. That is a supreme power of the Federal Government.
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue or liberal or conservative issue. This is about protecting the rights of the citizens of this country.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I think that those of us who are Members of the House who have watched this debate have seen that, as we have actually debated various amendments, I've gone out of my way to be as supportive of as many of the amendments as possible. We have accepted a number of them with no debate at all. So it's not in any spirit of partisanship or anything like that that I rise in opposition to this.
In the Energy Policy Act 2 years ago, at the request and after extensive consultation with stakeholders, we put in a provision that in certain cases gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to go in and arbitrate in some of these interstate transmission, grid transmission lines where the States have not been able to reach agreements among themselves. It's a very limited authority, but part of that does give eminent domain authority that is the intent of this amendment to strike.
We don't have enough transmission grid capacity in this country right now. We need to be building more power plants. We also need to be building more transmission lines to get that power to the market. This amendment, if successfully passed, would gut what we just did 2 years ago.
There have been a number of other attempts to change this part of the Energy Policy Act. The latest attempt was in June when Congressman Hinchey tried to strip out or gut section 216. It lost on the House floor 174-257. I hope that this amendment has a similar fate if it comes to a rollcall vote.
We simply have to have the ability in this country to move electricity from where we generate it to where we consume it, and in some States like Texas, Alaska, some of the large Western States, you can actually generate it in one State and use it in the same [Page: H9855]
States, which means you are transmitting it in intrastate commerce, but in most of our States, you're going to have transmission lines across State lines. So we have to have some Federal agency to
serve as an arbitrator when the States can't agree amongst themselves.
And in the Energy Policy Act 2 years ago, we gave that authority, under limited circumstances, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I think it was the appropriate thing to do, and I hope that we keep that authority, and I hope we would, thus, oppose this particular amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. ARCURI. Mr. Chairman, I respectfully disagree with my colleague from Texas. This amendment would not gut the bill. In fact, it would just give the States the right to have some input into where the power lines are going to be run in the State the same way that they have input in the State of Texas.
With that, I yield 1 minute to my good friend and fellow New Yorker (Mr. Hall).
Mr. HALL of New York. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I stand in strong support of this amendment.
I stand here speaking for my constituents at the Mount Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange County, New York, whose right-of-way to their church, a pillar of their community, will be cut off by the 130-foot-high tower for a power line that will be stuck in their driveway.
I stand here speaking for the owner of the Otisville, New York, hardware store, another mainstay of the community, and for his customers and his employees whose store will be leveled to put a tower there for the transmission line because they are running it literally down Main Street in patriotic, hardworking, taxpaying, all-American town of Otisville, New York.
Only one of the many stories of the NYRI power line, one of these supposedly national interest electric transmission corridors. In the name of property rights and in the name of States' rights and in the name of due process and protecting ordinary Americans from having their rights run over by some distant Federal agency that they don't understand, I plead for support of this amendment.
Mr. PETERSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Chairman, this is a complex issue, and I wish we had more time to really debate it, but it is a very important issue because this language was in the energy bill because we had problems across this country around our centers where a lot of electricity is used.
New York is the biggest user of electricity, but if we do this, we're saying that we have enough. If surrounding States such as Pennsylvania, an energy exporting State, took the same attitude, New York would be in the dark. Indeed, more reasonable New Yorkers realize this as demonstrated by the following statement from Mr. Gil Quiniones, Chair of the New York Energy Policy Task Force: ``The designation of vitally needed transmission corridors will enhance the public welfare both in the Nation
at large and in New York City as the Nation's most critical financial and commercial center.''
Join me in defeating this amendment. This is scare tactics. These are very limited powers that are used already on gas transmission lines. They've not been abused, but when we have disagreements between States and we have local groups who are just anti everything in energy, we need the ability to get electric and gas to our cities so they can function.
Mr. ARCURI. Mr. Chairman, I would submit that this is nothing about scare tactics. In fact, this morning I received notice from our Governor, who is a resident of New York City, supporting this amendment because this will help us get power to New York City in a responsible way. That's what this amendment is about. It's not about preventing it. It's about helping it to be done in a responsible way.
And with that, I yield 1 minute to my fellow New Yorker (Mr. Hinchey).
Mr. HINCHEY. I express my appreciation to my friend and colleague from New York (Mr. Arcuri) for putting this amendment out so that we can have an opportunity to discuss it.
As we have just heard, this amendment is supported strongly by the Governor of New York, and in fact, it is supported essentially by every Governor across the States. Why is that? Because this amendment makes it clear that the issue of eminent domain constitutionally belongs in the hands of the State, not the Federal Government, and it simply says that there is no impediment about these lines but decisions with regard to eminent domain should be placed in the hands of the State and the State
People should have a right to be able to protect their private personal property rights, and issues involving transmission lines and others that may require the use of private property are to be dealt with in a reasonable and lawful way, and this is what this amendment simply does.
It's very straightforward, very direct, and in no way impedes anything that is going to be injurious to any issue involving electricity or anything else. It simply asserts the rights of private property.
Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this amendment.
I don't know how many times this Congress has to vote against this. It's been defeated twice during the appropriations process.
Every analysis of the past decade has confirmed the critical need to expand and upgrade our Nation's transmission infrastructure, a need that's already raising the cost of electricity to many Americans and proving a barrier to diversifying our energy resources. Now is not the time to take a step backward.
I think it's interesting our three colleagues from New York, if it's an interstate line, it doesn't matter, but you may have problems getting it to New York. But also, New York was the last place that had a blackout simply because there was a problem in Ohio.
We need to have these transmission corridors across our country.
Mr. ARCURI. Mr. Chairman, in closing, there is an old saying that we should think globally but act locally. That is exactly what this amendment attempts to do. That is the idea behind this amendment.
We crafted it very narrowly, and despite some of the comments by the speakers about the problems that this would create, it does no such thing. In fact, it does just the opposite. This achieves all of the things that we need in this country. That is, getting energy and power to our large communities, to our large cities, to New York, to Los Angeles, to the places that need it. [Page: H9856]
It does it in a responsible way. It does it in such a way that the localities, the areas that we call the faucet, have some say in getting the power to the sink, and that's the area that FERC refers to as the place that needs the power, and, equally as important, that the people along the way have some say as well.
That's what this amendment does; and, as I say, it is supported by, as my friend, Mr. Hinchey, said, most of the Governors in this country.
The amendment deals with the concerns of localities. It deals with the constitutional rights, the States' rights that our States are most concerned with and, most importantly, it deals with the needs of all Americans.
I strongly support this amendment, and I urge my colleagues to do so as well.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.