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This is your home: Missouri AG fights for property rights

Commentary: Legislation targets compensation from the Grain Belt Express land grab; there is still a need for eminent domain reform.

January 12, 2024

4 Min Read
Andrew Bailey, Missouri Attorney General, and Congressman Mark Alford
HEARING CONCERNS: Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (left) chats with Congressman Mark Alford at the Missouri State Fair. Bailey, who grew up in Montgomery County, says with the actions of the Grain Belt Express energy project, the time is now to reform eminent domain in Missouri. Missouri Attorney General's Office

by Andrew Bailey

Big corporations with no ties to Missouri should not be allowed to take our land and convert family farms into electrical transmission lines that will not serve Missourians. Yet that is exactly what is about to happen here in my home state.

Soon, when Missourians look up, they will see 130-foot towering transmission lines cutting through our landscape, traversing a route originating in Kansas and ending in Indiana: the Grain Belt Expressway.

Project background

Living and raising my family in rural Montgomery County has enriched my love for our land. My neighbors are the legacy farmers and ranchers that sustain Missouri’s economy through livestock and agricultural production. Across our state, farmers and ranchers not only put food on our tables, but they also provide clean, independent ethanol and biodiesel energy sources.

Half of the counties that border my home are destined to become pass-through counties for the Grain Belt Expressway and its Tiger Connector spur. The project will be funded by well-heeled, out-of-state private interests in the hope that, someday, energy purchasers across the Midwest might desire the power flowing through these lines. This business venture is not intended to benefit Missourians.

In fact, the project owner has publicly revealed that only 10% of the available power is destined for delivery in Missouri. The company recently acknowledged its lack of empirical data showing there is current demand for the power planned to flow above Missouri’s land.

Thongchai Saisanguanwong/Getty Images - High voltage transmission towers in agriculture fields

Before we allow our farmers to be strong-armed and their land to be used as the foundation for someone else’s project, we need a demonstration that it will benefit real Missourians.

These sentiments are not just empty platitudes. Both the U.S. and Missouri Constitution prohibit the taking of private property unless there is just compensation provided. And nearly 20 years ago, the General Assembly passed a law that barred authorities from declaring our farmland worthless for the purposes of exercising eminent domain.

Know your rights

The power of eminent domain is limited by both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In Kelo v. City of New London, U.S. Supreme Court Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas opined in a dissenting opinion that taking property from the poor to benefit the rich would eliminate any distinction between the legal concepts of “public use” and “private use.”

In other words, use of eminent domain to benefit private corporations is a reverse “Robin Hood” that only benefits citizens and businesses with disproportionate power and influence over the political process.

Here in Missouri, state statute protects the integrity of property ownership. It recognizes that no one knows how to use our land better than our farmers, ranchers and landowners. But we need to do more.

Last year, the USDA estimated the Show-Me State’s value of cropland and all land and buildings to be higher than the national average. A review of data indicates that almost all of the counties affected by the Grain Belt Expressway are prime farmlands — above-average value even by Missouri’s high standard.

To that end, I support U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s proposed legislation that would ensure Missourians affected by the Grain Belt Expressway are fairly compensated.

Your land is worth something. That’s why in addition to supporting Hawley’s proposed legislation, my office is encouraging Missourians to do your research before any company offers you compensation for use of your land as a right-of-way for its own interests. Ask how you will benefit from the project.

Don’t let the Grain Belt Express and its out-of-state backers keep you in the dark before they take your land for their own ends.

In Missouri, we will continue to fight for individual property rights. We need to fight for legislation in the General Assembly to further protect our constitutional property rights. It is time for eminent domain reform. But we will also fight in the courts to turn the dissent from Kelo v. New London into the controlling majority at the federal level.

For generations, Missouri has been a place where farmers and ranchers have not only tended their lands, but also have cultivated a way of life. This is your home, a place we are preserving for future generations. By pushing back against out-of-state interests, we’re fighting to keep it that way.

Bailey is Missouri attorney general.

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