Sabin Russell Science Writer


Let’s Hear It from Principled Republicans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARepublicans have made themselves very difficult to love in the 21st century, but I have to confess I admire the fact that they do believe in a set of principles and usually shape their policies accordingly. I really do think of principled policy-making as a virtue, even when I disagree with those principles, and wish there was more of it among Democrats in the political left and center of our country.

So it drives me to distraction that the newly empowered Republican leadership is about to trash what I thought was one of their core beliefs: the sanctity of private property.

I am talking, of course, about what is oddly the top Republican priority after the party gained control of the Senate in November: To punch Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline through the heartland of America. A yes vote by the Senate this week will be an endorsement of the use of eminent domain to seize the private property of Americans, for the purpose of fattening the balance sheets of a foreign corporation.

There is no need here to go over the compelling environmental case to stop Keystone. I just wish, when the Senate debate takes place on January 7, that even a single Republican senator of principle would actually stand by principle in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Could just one of them take a deep breath and look into why he or she would invoke the state power of eminent domain against American property owners for a Canadian pipeline company? Make no mistake: A green light for Keystone XL means the seizure of the private property of a large number of Nebraska landowners, ranchers, and farmers — for the benefit of a foreign corporation demanding the shortest and cheapest route to oil markets outside the United States.

Eminent domain is a valid form of state power that has been invoked numerous times in our nation’s history since the 1800s. It is the seizure of land — with fair compensation — to achieve a public good. So eminent domain is used to condemn property to create parks or to build a public school, or to locate an airport, an interstate highway, or a new city hall. In recent years, the use of eminent domain has been expanded, in hotly contested legal cases, to condemn private businesses and homes for redevelopment projects, under the theory that removal of blighted property and construction of fancier places boosts the tax base and benefits the community. Personally, I don’t buy that, but it’s where the law is today.

And where is the law going? With Keystone XL, the power of eminent domain in the United States is, unbelievably, being extended for the financial benefit of a foreign business: TransCanada Corporation, of Calgary, Alberta. In the already built, southern stage of the pipeline project, just one landowner, Julia Trigg Crawford, of Paris, Texas, was brave enough to challenge the use of eminent domain. A Texas judge tossed out her case — literally issuing his ruling in a 15-word text message on his cellphone. Eventually the Texas Supreme Court declined to review her appeal.

I would think her treatment would bother most Republicans, but it apparently doesn’t. And it happened, after all, in Texas.

Nebraska is a different matter. Here we have, not a corrupt petrostate, but a conservative Republican farm state without oil reserves, whose only crime seems to be that it is located on the straight-edge of Canada’s shortest pipeline route to the sea. In Nebraska, TransCanada is challenged not by just a single landowner. There are at least 115 of them, all of them just as brave and committed as Julia Trigg Crawford.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One hundred fifteen property owners: That is not an isolated holdout. That’s more red-blooded Americans in one red state than there are senators in the Senate — each a property owner who cherishes their land, their water, and their rights under the Constitution. And were it not for the bullying of American families by TransCanada, there would doubtless be many more than 115, in Nebraska, Texas, and elsewhere.

You would think the usurpation of property rights of so many people would require an extraordinarily compelling national interest. Yet we are about to see a majority of senators — ironically, less than half the number of Nebraska landowners threatened with eminent domain — cavalierly agree to allow a foreign corporation seize the private property of Americans.

Really, Republicans: How could you?

-- Sabin Russell

January 5, 2015


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