House Majority Leader Op-ed dealing with “Landowner Bill of Rights”

PIERRE, S.D.(AberdeenInsider)- Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill known as the “Landowner Bill of Rights.” It places regulations on proposed carbon pipelines that could be built in South Dakota and requires them to pay additional money annually to landowners and counties.

The bill had strong bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem.

A group of political activists has announced an effort to repeal the Landowner Bill of Rights. As a prime sponsor of the bill in the House, I admit I am confused about the attempt to repeal it. The primary policy change contained in the measure is an additional surcharge that counties can levy on carbon pipelines, granting millions of extra dollars to farmers, ranchers and county governments each year. It also clarifies that the Public Utilities Commission has siting authority over linear projects like electrical lines, pipelines and other transmission projects. Finally, and importantly, it includes landowner protections, which ensure any easements pertaining to the carbon pipeline are done on terms that are fairer to the landowner.

The measure does not guarantee the carbon pipelines will be built — that decision will be made by the PUC. I think it’s likely the carbon pipeline will be built whether or not this law is in place, and I know for certain that if the pipeline is built, South Dakota will want the Landowner Bill of Rights. We’ll want the carbon pipeline to pay millions more dollars to our farmers and counties. We’ll want the pipeline to pay for damages caused to fields, drain tile, pastures and county roads. We’ll want the information on what happens if there is a leak.

It’s fair to ask, ‘Why would anyone want to repeal all these benefits to farmers, ranchers and the counties? I’ve spoken to many landowner advocates who have been fighting for landowner rights since the beginning of this carbon pipeline saga. Most acknowledge that the Landowner Bill of Rights is helpful, but doesn’t address their primary concern — eminent domain. They’d like to reform eminent domain, which is a process by which easements can be purchased from farmers, whether they want to sell or not.

I’m sympathetic to that concern. In 2023, I led on the eminent domain issue, advocating to clarify that carbon pipelines never had eminent domain authority and couldn’t use it for this project. That measure was defeated unanimously in the Senate. A similar measure didn’t make it out of a House committee this year. There is no consensus for making that change.

When it comes to the Landowner Bill of Rights, I can think of no clearer example than the phrase, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” Repealing it would clearly hurt farmers. It would take away substantial compensation and protections. No one can point to a single provision in the measure that harms property rights, and there are several obvious property rights added for farmers and ranchers. Repealing it would also take revenue away from counties that need it to fund sheriffs, county roads and veteran service officers. Repealing this measure would hurt the people it claims to be helping.

I do not know for certain if the carbon pipeline will be built, but if it is, our state, farmers and counties will be much better off with the Landowner Bill of Rights in place. I believe the activists seeking to repeal the measure are actually upset about eminent domain and the federal policies underlying the carbon pipeline, not the Landowner Bill of Rights. I urge all South Dakotans not to sign petitions to repeal the protections and benefits it contains.