JEFFERSON CITY — A bill seeking to limit the use of eminent domain and block a major wind energy transmission line project won first-round approval Tuesday in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Several state officials voiced their support for the bill at a rally held at the state capitol Tuesday afternoon, including Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and State Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, who sponsored the bill.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line — an approximately 780-mile overhead, direct current transmission line — was proposed in 2014 to transport wind energy from Kansas, through power lines in eight Missouri counties, into eastern states.

Much of the opposition toward the energy line centered around the use of eminent domain by a private utility company, Clean Line Energy.

“Our goal is to stop this madness,” Hansen said during the rally. “Don’t focus on just the eight counties. … We’re defending the whole state.”

Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, also supports Hansen’s bill and opposes the construction of the energy line.

“We know this is unjust, we know this is unreasonable, and in 45 minutes, we’ll make it unlawful,” Haahr said at the rally.

Missouri Farmers Care Chairman Gary Marshall said the larger concern is not the energy line itself, but the private company’s use of eminent domain.

“We have a lot of farmers that are not only concerned about this particular project, but the implications of an investor owned utility using eminent domain,” Marshall said. “We don’t want to see eminent domain used by for-profit companies anytime, anywhere they want to do that.”

Opponents of the bill were concerned that it singles out the wind energy industry, though some who spoke against it were supportive of broader eminent domain reform. State Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, said if the bill were purely about addressing property rights, then he would have voted in favor.

“I have a problem with that kind of a narrow bill target one industry,” Meredith said. “...But we should look at the big picture of eminent domain.”

State Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, voted in favor of the bill and also suggested further action against eminent domain.

While the bill seems likely to easily pass a final vote in the House, there will likely be more debate when it appears in the Senate, though supporters are confident it will pass in the Senate as well, Marshall said.

ecliburn@moberlymonitor.com