Green Energy Company’s Eminent Domain Buying Spree Concerns Illinois Lawmaker

Published April 14, 2016

A plan by Clean Line Energy Partners to build electricity transmission lines across Illinois is being challenged by state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon).

McCarter is calling on the courts, both state and federal, to deny any eminent domain requests for private property acquisition for the wind energy project. Eminent domain is a constitutional power of the government allowing the compulsory purchase of private property.

In late January, McCarter began fighting the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, a series of transmission lines stretching from green energy production fields in Kansas to Illinois. McCarter opposed the project, citing the pressure on Illinois landowners to accept construction on their land, which has been applied by the Illinois Commerce Commission, a government board tasked with “[balancing] the interests of consumers and utilities” and the federal government.  

David From, state director for the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity, says using eminent domain to benefit private companies is a relatively recent development in U.S. history.

In a 2005 case, Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court decided governments could take private property for “private benefit” in addition to “public use,” which is allowed in return for fair compensation in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

‘One of the Biggest Problems’

From says cronyism is becoming an increasingly powerful barrier to freedom in the United States.

“One of the biggest problems facing our country, and this is really underreported, is the idea of cronyism,” From says. “There’s an alliance between big business and government … to use the power of government, selective regulation, or the tax code so that the powerful can get a better deal that the average taxpayer can’t get.”

Hilary Gowins, managing editor at the Illinois Policy Center, says the game is often rigged against property owners in favor of big government and big business.

“When a government entity wants to take someone’s property, officials are obligated to offer a ‘fair market value’ price to compensate the landowner,” said Gowins. “But, if the owner doesn’t want to sell, the only way to fight back is through the courts. If a person does choose to stand and fight and loses, he’s likely to get a much smaller payout for his property than what it’s really worth. It’s a rigged, unfair system.”

Government ‘With a Bulldozer’

Gowins says using government power to benefit well-connected businessmen does not increase general prosperity.

“Eminent domain doesn’t spur the economy,” Gowins said. “What really grows the economy and drives innovation and progress is entrepreneurial activity. This can only happen when government gets out of the way, … the exact opposite of the government’s moving in on private property with a bulldozer.”

Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.