Delegating Eminent Domain Powers to Private Firms: Land Use and Efficiency Implications

Geoffrey K. Turnbull

Online First™, 3 August 2010


Many private common carriers or regulated utilities have eminent domain powers in the U.S. The rationale resembles that for local governments; lower cost of assembling land for long distance electric transmission, gas and oil products pipelines, etc. Recent court cases raise questions about whether eminent domain allows firms to use inefficiently long indirect land corridors, inefficiently wide corridors, or higher value land when lower value land is available as an alternative? Despite the incentive to over-use capital under rate-of-return regulation, it turns out that the firm adopts an excessive land corridor width only to the extent that corridor width is tied to capital usage. For route selection, rate-of-return regulated firms follow the same Pareto rule that would be followed by an efficiency-oriented government when designating which land to take for a transmission route by eminent domain.

Keywords  Private eminent domain – Public use – Regulated firm

JEL Classification  K11 – R14 – R38

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