Alabama Public Service Commission Cedes to Public Pressure, Agrees to Hold Public Meeting on Oil Pipeline in Mobile

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Pipelines from Telegraph Rd  to Mob River

Possible route of proposed new pipeline

By Glynn Wilson

Ceding to public pressure against a proposed crude oil pipeline through the watershed for the only drinking water supply serving the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, the state Public Service Commission has announced plans to conduct a “public proceeding” in Mobile on October 28 from 1-3 p.m. in the Mobile Government Plaza at 205 Government Street.

The stated purpose of the meeting is to “clarify the commission’s jurisdiction and role in adjudicating the pending request of Plains Mobile Pipeline, Inc. for a certificate finding that its proposed 2.4 mile pipeline, through the Prichard/Africatown area, is in the furtherance of industrial development pursuant to the … Code of Alabama.”

Apparently the commission has agreed to send one commissioner to Mobile to talk about another controversial pipeline, but sources say the commission has refused to hold a formal public hearing in Mobile to address the imminent domain issue in the area where citizens are to be affected by all the tar sands crude activity ramping up in the coastal city. One source said the commission and company cited “safety concerns” about holding the hearing in Mobile.

Back in September, Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis dismissed Plains Southcap’s condemnation lawsuit against Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, which had sued to stop the company from routing the pipeline through the watershed. The water board had joined a couple of hundred citizens and community activist groups in a citizens-called town hall public hearing back in July to try to convince the company to reroute the pipeline.

In addition to opposition from environmental groups, pipe trade unions picketed Plains Southcap for bringing in non-union, illegal immigrant labor from out of state and paying substandard wages. The company also used substandard pipe from Korea, which gave no one confidence of any pipeline they may build to carry tar sands crude, standard oil or anything else through the watershed of a drinking water supply in a hurricane floodplain – except for the Public Service Commission and the Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, who publicly endorsed the work of Plains Southcap and all the tar sands crude work going on along the waterfront in Mobile.

At issue was whether Plains Southcap had the same authority as a government agency to use eminent domain to condemn the land in the Big Creek Watershed to build the pipeline. The Public Service Commission had interpreted Alabama law in a way that granted a private company the same authority as a government agency and granted the company a permit, but the judge ruled this was not legal.

The commission has indicated it will appeal the ruling and set another public hearing on the issue for Wednesday, October 30 in Montgomery, although according to the PSC Website, the next regular meeting is scheduled for November 5.

The Gulf Restoration Network, the Mobile Bay Sierra Club, the Alabama Sierra Club and other groups have protested and demanded that the public hearing be moved to Mobile. Now they are asking that the meeting scheduled for October 30 in Montgomery be postponed on the grounds that citizens and groups have been denied access to more information, including an accurate map of the proposed route of the so-called “new pipeline,” so there is no way to determine who will be impacted by potential loss of property or what the other potential economic and environmental impacts might be.

Activists are planning to attend the public hearing in Montgomery en masse, according to statements going around on Facebook. A bus has been chartered to carry people from Mobile to Montgomery.

According to the press release announcing the meeting in Mobile, the commission vows to “receive input from citizens of Mobile regarding the proposed pipeline and explain how many of the concerns expressed thus far can be best addressed by the entities with the jurisdiction necessary to act on the issues raised.”

“When we learned that the oil company had safety concerns about coming to the hearing here we laughed,” said Thayer Dodd, one of the activists fighting all the tar sands activity and the pipelines with the group Tar Sands Oil Mobile, a citizens coalition. “They are the ones who are jeopardizing our environment and endangering our health and safety and our futures and our way of life. They are the ones who are bullying our homeowners without legal right and disrespecting our people and our pristine wetlands and rivers and bays. They are the ones who are bringing toxic, explosive, carcinogenic products from Canada or Mexico or Saudia Arabia through our neighborhoods and shipping them out of state or out of the country. They bring all risk and no reward. They are the threat, not us. There is no furtherance of economic development for the people of Alabama, despite what our governor claims.”

The commission is supposed to regulate investor-owned utilities in Alabama, including Alabama Power Company, Alabama Gas Corporation, and Mobile Gas Service Corporation, although critics say they very rarely do anything to regulate the companies at all and usually just rubber stamp what they want, especially Alabama Power. The commission also maintains limited jurisdiction over the regulation of telephone providers as well as trucking and railroad operations, according to the agency’s Website, although the power to regulate rarely results in the government actually doing any regulating in a conservative place where government is hated or feared.

While the PSC admits that the operations proposed by Plains Mobile — a new corporation recently formed by Plains Southcap LLC — do not fall under the commission’s general jurisdiction under the provisions of Title 37 of the Alabama Code, it takes the position that as long as the corporation’s purpose is classified as “industrial development,” it should be allowed to do anything it wants with the full blessing of the state.

The current members of the PSC are Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, a former aide to Republican Governor Bob Riley. She acts as president. Former state House representative Jeremy Oden, also a Republican, serves in Place 1. Terry Dunn, also a Republican with the Dunn Development Corporation and Dunn Investment Group who has held the state license in municipal utilities contracting for the past 25 years, serves in Place 2.

Karl Rove, a former aide to President George W. Bush, has said he regrets endorsing Dunn. Why? Because he actually had the gall to try at least to do the job he was elected to do, regulate public utilities.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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