When President Obama traveled south to Cushing, Okla. to issue a specific memorandum to federal agencies to fast-track the approval the Gulf Coast portion of the Keystone XL pipeline and to speak about his ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, it hit many landowners living along the pipeline route like a ton of bricks.
While the president rejected the permit for the cross-border northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in the fall amid cheers from his environmental base, he has backtracked on that position considerably, now wholeheartedly endorsing the southern half of the pipeline which will run from Cushing to Port Arthur, Tex.
Landowners living along the pipeline’s path say they have been intimidated by TransCanada to sign away the rights to their land, and it’s not just landowners that will lose. The pipeline is expected to destroy indigenous archeological and historical sites—including grave sites—in Oklahoma and Texas.
Conservative and liberal Texans alike, from Tea Partiers to Republicans, Independents, Democrats and Occupiers all understand that this pipeline isn’t good for Texas. That’s why a collective of environmental activists are banding together in the spirit of non-violent direct action to stop the pipeline.
Eminent Domain Abuse
On April 30 TransCanada will take Julia Trigg Crawford to court for eminent domain. She has been fighting the company since 2008, trying to preserve the integrity of her 600-acre family farm and the historical indigenous artifacts in the area.
“You never know where [the artifacts] are going to be,” Crawford says. “So any kind of trenching or heavy digging could destroy things that you cannot put a dollar value on.”
Crawford has stood strong against the TransCanada, still refusing to sell her land despite an upcoming court date set for June 14. If she continues to hold fast, the company will have to formally condemn her land, seizing it through eminent domain power granted by the state.
TransCanada, as a private company, is able to do this because it applied for and received what is known as a common carrier status from the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency responsible for regulating oil and gas. Common carrier status is given to companies transporting goods or services for public use and carries with it the power of eminent domain under its regulatory body. When other companies can use a pipeline it is considered a common carrier pipeline in the state of Texas.
She is calling for TransCanada to prove its common carrier status as a public project because the Texas Railroad Commission’s application process for common carrier status does not require any validation. TransCanada simply filled out a government form for a permit, known as the T-4 form, and checked a box labeled ‘common carrier’.
Many landowners in Texas consider the fact that the Keystone XL will primarily be an export pipeline enough to prove that the project does not have the best interest of the general Texas public in mind. The pipeline will carry tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Port Arthur, Tex. to be sold on the global market to the highest bidder.
A recent Texas Supreme Court case, Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green Pipeline, backs up Crawford’s claim. The court ruled in favor of Texas landowners saying that the T-4 permit is not enough to show a pipeline is necessarily a common carrier, and therefore does not conclusively establish eminent domain power on behalf of private companies who are granted this status by the Texas Railroad Commission.
Although TransCanada has made it clear that the pipeline will be available ‘for hire’ to any company that wants to use it if they meet certain requirements.
The Texas Railroad Commission states that it has no regulatory authority to make sure private companies don’t abuse eminent domain power.
“[Oklahoma landowners] received threats and they were highly fearful of TransCanada and the way they did their business. Every case of the people I spoke with said they signed out of a position of fear,” said Oklahoma resident and indigenous environmental activist Rosemary Crawford with the Center for Energy Matters at an anti-pipeline rally during the president’s recent speech in Cushing, Okla.