The latest obstacle to the Keystone XL oil pipeline project comes from tea partyers, much to the delight of environmentalists.
Property-rights conservatives, water supply activists and landowners are banding together along the pipeline’s proposed route through Texas, challenging plans to claim land for the proposed pipeline that will run from Canada’s oil sands to Texas’ Gulf Coast.
“Crippling someone’s water supply knows no party line,” said Rita Beving, consultant to the bipartisan East Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission. A Republican mayor and a Democratic city secretary lead the group’s fight against the pipeline.
These local concerns add to the chorus of debate over Keystone XL, which has yet to gain federal approval. This week, Republicans in Congress tried to pass legislation to override President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deny a permit for the project. A broad coalition of liberal and environmental groups sent lawmakers more than 600,000 letters opposing that effort.
But environmentalists on the ground say landowner-led efforts, albeit smaller in scale, may have a better shot at stopping the pipeline.
“I could stand on the street corner and jump up and down as loud as I can. But the environmental message would only go so far,” Ian Davis, a Texas-based Sierra Club activist, told Roll Call.
The environmental group that typically draws Democratic-leaning liberals and is often at odds with conservative causes is coordinating with unusual allies in the Keystone fight. They include Debra Medina, a tea partyer who challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the 2010 Republican primary and won 19 percent of the vote.
“We’ve been doing the environmental bit for years here, and nothing’s caught fire. But what [Medina] is doing has created momentum,” Davis said.
Medina and her fellow tea partyers oppose TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to claim private land for pipeline use, and they say Texas laws don’t protect landowners and city councils in the event of a spill.
Eminent domain has been used for years by government agencies and private companies to build roads and pipelines, as well as parks and environmental protection areas. But a recent Texas Supreme Court decision suggested that landowners may have the legal grounds to challenge companies that use eminent domain.
TransCanada did not respond to requests for comment, but representatives for the company have said that they prefer voluntary agreements with landowners to forceful use of eminent domain. On the company’s website, landowners are promised “fair and equitable compensation for the land easements granted.”
Bill Peacock, vice president of research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said eminent-domain laws skew in favor of companies because landowners have to wage costly court battles to challenge them.
“There’s no such thing as a voluntary agreement with a company or government that has the power to take your property,” Peacock said.
Texas landowner David Daniel said he has experienced that imbalance firsthand. He agreed to lease land to TransCanada but said he was misled about the safety of oil-sands pipelines. He has since launched a group called Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines to highlight safety concerns arising from the high pressure and unknown chemicals used to extract energy from oil sands.
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