Casey trying to save farmland from power lines

By Cara Host, Observer-Reporter

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is trying to use the federal farm bill to shelter farmland from high-voltage power lines.

He introduced Wednesday an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill that would prevent electric companies from using federal eminent domain to run high-voltage power lines through certain agricultural areas. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on Casey's amendment today. Casey is a member of that committee.

"Traditionally, the issue of eminent domain has been up to the state government and that's where I think it should remain," Casey said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
A government uses eminent domain to seize private property for public use, such as a power line.

The proposed National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor would give the federal government power to override state regulators and decide eminent domain and other issues associated with transmission lines. The corridor is meant to enhance the nation's electric grid by encouraging construction of power lines in certain areas.

The Mid-Atlantic corridor includes Washington and Greene, as well as 50 other counties in Pennsylvania.

Allegheny Power is planning to build a 37-mile power line through Washington and Greene counties that is part of the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, a larger project to build transmission towers through West Virginia and to northern Virginia.

The company is pursuing approval from the state Public Utility Commission, which is expected to make a decision by June. If the PUC rejects the plans, Allegheny Power could ask the federal government to intervene.

The farm bill, a five-year spending plan for most agricultural issues, is up for renewal this year. Casey said he is unsure if his amendment will make it out of committee.

"I think we will have support on both sides of the aisle," he said. "We're going to continue to work on it, and I'm going to use every ounce of my power to fight because the Department of Energy is not treating us equitably."

Casey also vowed to block the re-nomination of Joseph Keliher as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as another way to denounce energy policy.

Even if Casey's amendment makes it to law, it may have only a limited impact on the local power line project. Allegheny Power already obtained 90 percent of the easements needed to build the local line, according to the company.

However, a group of Washington County property owners sued Allegheny Energy earlier this month, claiming that the easements across their land have expired. A similar lawsuit is expected to be filed in Greene County soon.

Earlier this month, Casey visited the home of Joy and Kevin Eggleston near Jefferson. The power line is supposed to pass a few hundred feet from their house. He also spoke with other property owners in Washington and Greene who are opposed to the project.