Obama Is Losing the Keystone Pipeline Battle

The president finds himself between an environmentalist rock and a labor union hard place

(Page 2 of 2)

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. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    oooo! Enviros or Union pukes - who do I hate more!

    The delicious , delicious scent of Team infighting. Always good, no matter which Team it is...

  • PapayaSF||

    Environmentalists either don't know, or don't want anyone to know, that there are already about 50,000 miles of petroleum pipelines crisscrossing the country, some of which are over the Ogallala aquifer. And if the oil doesn't come here, the Canadians will build a pipeline to British Columbia and load the oil onto tankers headed for China. No environmental risks there!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    This is why we must convert to wind/solar/unicorn energy as soon as possible! It's not too late!! But we're running out of TIME!!!!

    LEAVE MOTHER GAIA ALOOONE!

  • Aresen||

    Unicorn farts are a trivial energy source. We must genetically engineer the revival of sauropods so that we can power the world on brontofarts. (See Ron's post yesterday.)

  • wareagle||

    oh, they know. They just believe that most others don't know, counting - as liberals always do - on a massively uninformed populace.

  • ||

    And if the oil doesn't come here, the Canadians will build a pipeline to British Columbia and load the oil onto tankers headed for China.

    That is Plan B (or in parallel with Keystone XL), but Canada has environmentalists, too, plus First Nations who are relatively influential in the provincial politics of BC. The building of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines isn't a foregone conclusion yet as far as I know.

  • Sevo||

    CP Rail is more than pleased about that.
    That oil is going someplace, regardless.

  • Mike M.||

    Excellent. Keep on shoving the pipeline right down this scumbag's throat, republicans. He can't possibly win this one; there's way too few anti-pipeline psychopaths in the country.

  • scareduck||

    Why the words "eminent domain" do not appear in this article I cannot say, but given that there have been multiple accounts of abuse of that state power in this pipeline (which see), it somewhat surprises me to see this reduced to a simple tale of enviro-vs-union porn.

  • scareduck||

    Okay, NVRMIND. Missed page 2.

  • TheAtomicOption||

    I don't think they should use Eminent Domain for this, if the oil company wants to build a pipeline through someone's backyard they can negotiate with the property owners for it.

    Also, environmentalists really need to learn to pick their battles better. The climate change people have an interesting message generally, but their opposition to this is pretty silly.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I wonder sometimes whether Obama became president on a dare. Dare you you can't piss off your constituents and the Republicans at the same time! Double-dog dare you!

  • Paul.||

    He already won by becoming president. Everything that follows is just gravy.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And that's the problem with playing to the environmentalist vote; the environmentalists are seldom prepared to examine the actual pros and cons of any project. If men want to do it, they're against it. Never mind poor people going without heat or transport. Environmentalism is as much about feeling morally superior as the worst in-your-face Bab-tist ever whelped.

  • Aresen||

    By far the biggest environmentsl threat to the Ogallala Aquifer is the high drawdown rate. The water is being taken out many times faster than it is naturally replaced.

    If the 'environmentalists' were sincerely trying to protect the aquifer, they would be demanding that farmers and communities be prohibited from drawing water at a rate greater than the natural replacement rate.

    But it is much easier to go up against an evil pipeline than the farm lobby.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    If the 'environmentalists' were sincerely trying to protect the aquifer, they would be demanding that farmers and communities be prohibited from drawing water at a rate greater than the natural replacement rate.

    Its because of water-intensive (and nitrate-intensive run-off making) corn growing to turn it into ethanol that will obviate the need for oil so no need for Keystone hence save the Ogallala aquifer!

    Pause and think about that, for there is the circuit of logic that short-circuits the leftard brain.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Maybe somebody here can answer a question I've had for a while; Why don't we pump treated (clean) water back down into aquifers that are being drawn down? Does anybody know? Is this a stupid question, and I'm missing something obvious?

  • Aresen||

    If the water were still available in liquid form, that would be feasible. It would be even better to simply use the same water multiple times rather than expend the energy to pump it back into the aquifer.

    The problem with the Ogallala aquifer is that most of the water is used in agriculture. Which means it is lost to evaporation or transpiration when applied to irrigate fields. It is simply not available to recycle.

  • JoshSN||

    You are talking about billions of gallons of water. We don't have that much fresh water, lying around, to put back into the aquifer.

    Seeing as this one aquifer is used across many states, and is the reason America has a plains states "breadbasket," the idea of losing it to an oil spill is ne plus ultra serious.

  • Josh Stegmaier||

    If we had that much fresh water, we wouldn't need the aquifer.

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    I've never met an environmentalist with anything more than a shitty liberal arts degree. Even the environmental engineers that I work with aren't environmentalists. If these twats want to change things, I'd suggest that they start with getting a sound education in something other than Mayan Literature and pitch some solutions. Bitching incessantly and offering no solutions does nothing to advance your cause.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    ...something other than Mayan Literature

    RACIST!

  • shamalam||

    December 21st is coming soon. We'll see who has the last laugh. /OxyCoxyQuotl

  • Aresen||

    And, if we make it past that, we still have to make it past April 13, 2036.

  • Aresen||

    I have met environmentalists with hard science degrees. They are either very pragmatic individuals who look at environmental problems and say "this is what is feasible to do about the problem" or technocrats who itch to set up a system of their own design that meets their idea of fairness and efficiency.

    As for liberal arts majors, I am one. Although I would be considered a heretic by most Greenies, I think of myself as an environmentalist, just not in the sense that most capital-E "Environmentalists" do.

    Put simply, I would say that poor environmental management is usually the result of bad economics or allowing polluters to place the burden of their externalities on others. (EG: Allowing someone to dump untreated sewage/chemicals in a river so that downstream users' interests in the river is damaged.)

  • JoshSN||

    And I've never met anyone who actually was dumb enough to vote for Bush twice, but there were 10s of millions of them.

    Anecdote != Data

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    That might have something to do with the quality of options they were given. I mean; Gore? Kerry? Really, Democrats? It that the best you can do?

  • Sevo||

    "Put simply, I would say that poor environmental management is usually the result of bad economics or allowing polluters to place the burden of their externalities on others. (EG: Allowing someone to dump untreated sewage/chemicals in a river so that downstream users' interests in the river is damaged.)"

    I would suggest that is a temporary condition, given tort law and 'public opinion'.
    Assuming a 7% profit margin (that's absent BB's attempt to make interest = 0%) it doesn't take a lot of negative publicity before any business 'cleans up its act'.
    Yeah, "Declaration of Independents" has been flogged here a lot, but a point that isn't strongly enough made (IMO) is that political solutions are trailing indicators; the issues at hand are already being demanded and the politicos jump at the chance to prove they are wonderful by coercing them.

  • Aresen||

    Sevo. I agree that tort law has changed that situation, at least to some extent.

    But there were many precedents in the past where 'the greater good' was used to justify damage to some people's real, tangible interests in order that another party could benefit without the first party being compensated.

    A prime example of environmental degradation brought on by a bad economic decision was the destruction of the Aral Sea in the old Soviet Union. Not only did the Aral Sea fishery get destroyed and the whole local ecosystem wrecked, but the cotton fields that the water diversion project was supposed to support were never viable.

  • joy||

    Oil spills on land are nasty but not apocalyptic events. In any case, http://www.nikewinkel.com/trai.....-c-58.html TransCanada has agreed to change the route of the pipeline so that it no longer goes through the area that most concerns the activists.

  • jason||

    This decision is really costing the obama government.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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