The Tennessee Senate passed a bill that would largely prevent local governments from restricting or prohibiting certain energy infrastructure projects.
SB 2077 passed the state Senate by a vote of 23 in favor and seven opposed, on March 24.
A companion bill in the Tennessee House awaits consideration in two committees.
Among the enterprises listed in SB 2077 which counties and municipalities may not prevent from constructing new or expanding existing infrastructure are electric utilities, gas utilities, and gas transmission companies.
The bill specifically prohibits actions by local governments that would involve de facto banning of energy infrastructure, industrial projects, and related transportation infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines. The bill would also bar municipalities from imposing moratoriums on siting, expansion, or maintenance of energy transportation infrastructure.
In addition, the bill would protect liquefied petroleum gas dealers, transmitters, distributors, retail outlets, and storage entities from local government prohibitions on otherwise lawful energy operations.
Protecting Statewide Projects
Local governments should not be able to ban energy projects, especially ones with statewide effects, said bill cosponsor Sen. Ken Yager (R- Kingston), in a statement given to Environment & Climate News.
“A locality should not have the authority to outright ban energy infrastructure when that infrastructure serves the vital needs of the people of an entire state,” Yager said.
Anti-fossil-fuel activists from Tennessee and outside the state are actively working to prevent new critical fossil-fuel energy infrastructure from being constructed, says Yager, citing the recent cancellation of the 49-mile Byhalia pipeline project south of Memphis, which was intended to connect oil pipelines from Tennessee to Mississippi.
The bill would let the state and federal governments ensure safety while leaving localities free to ensure neighborhoods are protected, says Yager.
“Industries involved in energy and energy infrastructure are some of the most highly regulated in the state,” Yager said. “Many federal laws already regulate safety aspects of pipeline construction and maintenance.
“These pipelines, storage tanks, and other infrastructure segments provide natural gas, petroleum, ammonia, etc. to those who need it,” Yager said. “This bill keeps general local zoning power intact. It only states local governments cannot outright ban altogether the sort of infrastructure that is necessary to access reliable, affordable energy sources.”
Yager’s bill would allow local governments to keep infrastructure projects at a reasonable distance from residences, says Ron Shultis, director of policy and research at the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
“The bill simply ensures local governments cannot prohibit the delivery or supply of certain types of energy while still allowing local governments to reasonably regulate through aspects like zoning so pipelines aren’t going through the middle of neighborhoods,” Shultis said.
Struggle for Control
Lobbyists paid with taxpayer dollars have been fighting against the bill, says Shultis.
“Despite rapid inflation and rising gas prices, taxpayer-funded lobbyists on behalf of local governments here in Tennessee are seeking to squash a commonsense proposal to ensure Tennesseans have adequate access to the energy necessary to live their lives,” Shultis said.
Contrary to its critics’ claims, Amendment 1 of the bill has specific provisions allowing necessary and usual rules and policies to ensure pipelines are safe and comply with existing laws protecting the environment, land use, and human health, says Shultis.
“Opponents aren’t so much trying to make sure residents have control over local energy decisions, but rather are trying to prevent the bill from prohibiting their own politically motivated power grabs,” Shultis said. “Yet as we often see, those calling for ‘local control’ are still seeking control.
“In this case, it means using local government to implement liberal ideologies at the expense of Tennessee taxpayers,” Shultis said.
Local Governments’ Projects Exempted
In a further concession to local governments, Yager’s bill would allow existing government-owned municipal utilities, or those they may construct in the future, to place limits on their own operations and infrastructure.
“In addition to prohibiting local political subdivisions from taking the actions that I have mentioned, … it does not prevent a political subdivision from owning its own electric or natural gas system and from promulgating the rules necessary to run that electric system,” Yager said during a March 15 hearing on his bill.
Calls for Infrastructure Study
The bill directs Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development to examine “the current infrastructure of utilities operating in this state, including pipelines or transmission lines that are used to produce or distribute gas, oil, or another energy source.”
The purpose of the study is to find out whether improvements to existing infrastructure would attract developers and investors.
The study is expected to cost $10,000 per county. The department will coordinate with utility companies to map existing pipelines and transmission corridors, generate plots for unmapped areas, and suggest where additional pipelines might be useful or desirable to improve operations.
The utilities would help determine what improvements are necessary.
Linnea Lueken (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute.