Energy Fellow Works on Alternatives to Eminent Domain

My name is Brandon Gerstle, and I’m the new summer energy fellow at the Center. As an environmental law student at the University of Oregon, I was drawn to the Center because of their drive to find practical solutions to our nation’s environmental challenges.

I’ve been in Lyons for 3 weeks, and, while it’s different from my hometown of Los Angeles, I feel like I’m living the good life: buying locally produced food, attending a rodeo, and even making my own butter.

My big summer project is to investigate alternatives to eminent domain for development of new transmission lines. This is a really interesting and important project. Development of new transmission lines will:

  • Increase competition in the energy market, reducing consumers’ energy bills. 
  • Reduce greenhouse emissions by connecting renewable energy resources (i.e. wind) to the grid and linking surplus generation capacity to areas of need. 
  • Generate good paying jobs for hardworking Americans. 

You might be thinking why not use eminent domain? The simple answer is many states deny eminent domain authority for siting interstate transmission lines. Some critics also dislike eminent domain because it under-compensates landowners and causes economic waste through excessive administrative and legal costs.

From the landowner’s perspective, I’m considering land acquisition approaches that result in more equitable outcomes. These include public and private arrangements that allow landowners to accept cash buyouts or share in the profits of the transmission project.

From the developer’s perspective, I’m considering factors to assist developers in assembling land without the use of eminent domain. These include using government land, public financing, tax incentives, and wise strategies to build landowner consensus. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire projects that benefit the public at large, landowners, and developers.

I’m here in Lyons all summer, and encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the development of new transmission lines. My number is 402.687.2103, ext 1021, or email brandong@cfra.orgTalk to you soon!