Last week, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) hit another small setback. A judge once again extended a stay on the developer's request to use a specific proceeding within eminent domain called a “quick take.” A “quick take” proceeding is what it sounds like: it allows for developers to take people’s property before an eminent domain hearing is had, and therefore doesn't require immediate compensation to the landowners.
Now considering how those on the right love to talk about property rights, you’d think this practice would be immediately decried. (Although at this point, if you think the right privileges being ideological consistency over getting their way, then we don’t know what to tell you.)
Earlier this week, Republican Senator Steve Daines from Montana introduced a measure in the Senate condemning socialism, and claiming that “socialist policies such as the Green New Deal and socialized medicine would... eliminate the private property rights of all people of the United States.” That’s clearly ridiculous, but it's also hypocritical. Daines has been an outspoken supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline for years, and even urged President Trump at the end of 2018 to try and move the project forward. This project has actually threatened people’s property rights, with ranchers in Daine’s own state having spoken out against the practice, but sure, the Green New Deal is the problem.
Unfortunately, despite the ruling in the ACP case, some other recent court cases seem to indicate pipeline developers may continue to get away with stealing people’s land. In Iowa, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the use of eminent domain for the Dakota Access Pipeline was legal because it provides public benefits.
But as everyone instinctively knows, pipelines aren’t built in the public interest: their purpose is to make companies money. “We are devastated,” an Iowa farmer told the Des Moines Register. “How can a Texas company be allowed to seize my family farmland for their profit?"
And when pipeline developers do use eminent domain, they don’t have a good track record of doing so fairly. In 2016, developers of the Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs through Alabama, Georgia, and central Florida, sued more than 150 mostly rural landowners throughout construction. The pipeline owners were so egregious in their heavy-handed use of eminent domain that years after the pipeline was completed, a federal court in Georgia ruled in favor of a property owner who was owed nearly five times what Sabal Trail initially offered him.
While the oil and gas in these pipelines tends to end up in a different state than the ones they’re cutting through, the argument pro-pipeline camps use is it creates a more competitive marketplace in the US, which benefits customers. But what about when companies use pipelines to export gas out of the country? How is this a public service for Americans living in those states?
In Oregon, landowners are worried that the twice-denied Jordan Cove export pipeline will follow a similar trend of eminent domain abuse. Considering the gas is on its way to Asia, they say it would in no way positively impact the community. When the landowners on the pipeline route were surveyed, 38% of them were unwilling to surrender to the pipeline owners.
Plus, if built, the pipeline would be Oregon’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, which surely isn’t a public service to anyone who, you know, wants to live on a habitable planet.
In fact, considering that the American public has repeatedly shown their support for renewable energy and the desire to transition away from fossil fuels, we have to wonder who this “public” is that is benefiting from these pipelines.
Recently, pipeline protestors have gained a somewhat unlikely ally in this fight. Last year, libertarians joined the anti-pipeline chorus last year with the Niskanen Center saying that Natural Gas Act, which allows pipeline developers to take land with eminent domain, routinely breaches landowners’ rights. And supposedly, the new Republican-led “Roosevelt Conservation Caucus” is going to take on property right’s issues along with other conservation issues.
So we’ll see if Republicans are ready to walk the walk on this issue, or if the only right they really care about is the one to profit.