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One troubling aspect of the building the Keystone pipeline is the use of eminent domain to force landowners to allow it to pass through their property. Eminent domain is defined as the legal right of a government or its agents to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of just compensation. The New York Times is reporting today a story about how Texas landowner Julia Trigg Crawford is fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to build a section of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline through her property. Unfortunately for landowners pipelines are generally considered to be common carriers [PDF], usually defined as companies that agree to publicly transport people or goods at a fixed fee. The U.S. government and most states have delegated the power of eminent domain to common carriers.
In a March during a trip to oil country, Obama reiterated his support for building the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, assuring audiences that it is a “priority” for his administration. Perhaps recent poll numbers showing that 57 percent of Americans approve of the pipeline and that only 29 percent oppose it is prompting the president to do a bit of recalculating with regard to his electoral math. Meanwhile the clock is ticking because TransCanada’s February southern leg application triggered a 45-day deadline by which the Army Corps of Engineers must deny construction permits, or they are automatically approved by default. We will soon find out just how expeditiously helpful the Obama administration means to be.
And if that isn’t bad enough for Obama, TransCanada’s new application is raising tensions among the interest groups that generally support the Democratic Party. Over the weekend, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told C-SPAN that labor unions favor building the pipeline. On the other hand, environmental activists who thought they had succeeded in killing off the pipeline only to see it rise from the grave are near apoplectic. Finally, if the transportation bill emerges from Congress with a provision mandating the construction of the Keystone pipeline, will the president really risk vetoing a bill that promises to create a total of three million jobs in order to satisfy the demands of the environmentalists? It’s not like they are going to vote for Romney anyway.
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
Disclosure: Last fall I took a reporting trip to visit Alberta’s oilsands. My travel expenses were covered by the American Petroleum Institute. The API did not ask for nor does it have any editorial control over any of my reporting, period.