The company hoping to build a pipeline through Coastal Georgia needs to make sure it does everything it can to protect the environment if its project is approved, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said during a Friday morning stop in Richmond Hill.
“We need to hold their feet to the fire,” Carter said of Kinder Morgan, the company behind the proposed Palmetto Pipeline project. “If it goes forward, they need to be held to the highest standard.”
Carter, a first-term Republican congressman from Pooler, said the decision on whether to allow the pipeline won’t be easy. The company is asking the Georgia Department of Transportation for a certificate of public convenience and necessity so it can use eminent domain to seize land if necessary.
That, economic reasons and environmental concerns have led some to oppose the project, and a public hearing hosted by GDOT is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Carter, who spoke for roughly 20 minutes at a Richmond Hill High School cafeteria, urged students to attend the hearing.
“You need to be there, you need to ask questions of the company,” Carter said. “You need to ask Kinder Morgan what kind of guarantees (they) can give us that (they’re) not going to impact our environment.”
But Carter, who was responding to a question from student Cecelia Giangacomo, president of the RHHS environmental club, also said the pipeline is a question of energy availability.
“All of you know how blessed we are to live where we live,” he said. “We’ve got beaches, marsh front, rivers, streams. It’s a beautiful area, and Georgia is one of the most beautiful states in the nation. We are blessed. We’ve got to take care of our environment, and we’re going to do that. But we also have to have availability of energy. That’s very important to me; it’s very important to all of us.”
Carter told students they are too young to remember a time when oil-producing companies from the Middle East “literally had us over a barrel” with regard to oil prices, and “that’s not a good place to be as far as our national security is concerned.”
“I suspect many of you drive, and gas is expensive,” he said. “It’s come down some, but we need to make sure it stays at a level we can afford. Having a pipeline could help that. … So sometimes we have to make tough decisions. What we have to do is make sure we’re protected. We have to hold these companies to a standard. We have to make sure they’re following the right guidelines and following the law.”
Afterward, Giangacomo said she was satisfied with Carter’s answer.
“It was a good answer,” she said. “He jumped around the question a little at first, but he did come back and answer it.”
Giangacomo added that she agreed the pipeline probably is necessary, though she doesn’t think the company should have the power of eminent domain to allow it to seize property for the pipeline.
“If they put the protections on the pipeline to make sure it’s safe, I think it’s OK. As long as we have the safeguards,” she said. “I think we do need the energy production.”
Carter, who later visited Richmond Hill Middle School, took other questions as well. In response to one asking whether he believed the U.S. should send troops to deal with the Islamic State group, which also is known by the acronym ISIS, Carter said, “We need to wipe them off the face of the Earth.”
“None of us want to put any of our heroes, any of our troops, in harm’s way,” he said. “That should only be used as a last resort. But the threat of ISIS is a threat to our way of life, and we’ve got to take that very seriously.”
Carter said the U.S. needs to do the job right if it’s going to do it at all.
“If we are indeed going to face this threat, then we are going to have to face it with everything we’ve got,” he said. “… If we do go in with boots on the ground, we need to go in with full force and go in with the idea that we’re going to win, and win quickly, so we can have the least amount of casualties. We don’t want to go in there with half an effort.”
In response to a related question, Carter said Americans who join the Islamic militant organization should lose their citizenship.
“I certainly respect the religions of all people,” he said. “But when you get to the point of not respecting other people’s religions, and causing harm to other people, as ISIS is doing, then that to me is the tipping point where you have to draw a line.”
The House as Dorm
Carter covered a range of issues, from a recent vote in Congress to abolish the so-called “death tax,” or tax on the estates of those who die, to education reform and the importance of being involved in community and public life.
“Whatever you do, I encourage you to be involved,” he said. “I’m getting older every day, and we need young people like you to be involved.”
Carter, a native of West Chatham and a pharmacist, served as Pooler mayor and as a state lawmaker before entering Congress. It’s been an adjustment, he said.
“The hardest thing about being in Congress is being away from home,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. Right now, I can tell you I’m living in my office, and it’s not such a bad thing. I’ve got a nice cot I can roll behind a curtain when people come to visit, we’ve got a gym with showers, lockers and washing machines and dryers.”
Carter said he wasn’t the only one, either, because “living in Washington, D.C., is very expensive.”
“There are over 80 of us living in our offices,” he said. “You build up a lot of camaraderie. And it’s a good thing for me, being new. I’m getting to know some of those guys quite well.”
The flip side of that coin?
“The easiest part is getting to know everyone,” Carter said. “It’s the friendships and camaraderie you build up all across the country and from across the aisle. Some of my friends are Democrats. We don’t necessarily agree on political issues, but we’re still friends and I value their friendship. So the most enjoyable part for me is the relationships you get to build.”
Carter said he was impressed by the students’ knowledge of issues and was honored to be able to speak to them. Richmond Hill High School Principal Debi McNeal said she was honored Carter chose RHHS as a place to speak.
“He could have chosen to go meet with any kids at any school,” she said. “He chose Richmond Hill High School, and that’s really nice. It makes our kids feel special.”