Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conservatives Against The Keystone Pipeline


“Government has no other end but the preservation of property” – John Locke.

You have to read all of Locke’s Two Treatise of Government to gain the full force and understanding of Locke’s quote, but the point is clear. Government exists to protect private property and does not have the authority to just do with it as it will.

The U.S. Constitution generally recognizes this. The Third Amendment protects private property from being occupied by the military during peacetime. The Fourth Amendment guarantees security of property against unreasonable search and seizure. The Fifth Amendment protects against the loss of property without due process and states that private property may only be seized for public use and requires just compensation.

The U.S. Constitution is a great document, but it is not perfect. There is a reason it has been amended before.  One example of how it should be fixed is the tail end of the Fifth Amendment. “Public use” has been understood by the courts and many state governments to be anything that benefits the public in any way. The disastrous 2005 Kelo vs. City of New Haven decision went so far as to say that eminent domain could be used to transfer property from one private group to another in order to increase tax revenue. And this followed nearly 100 years of concurring precedents.

Taking someone else’s property without their permission is called stealing. The only exceptions to this are taxes and the suspension of Habeas corpus. The Fifth Amendment should be amended to reflect the language of the Third Amendment, where the only time private property can be seized by the government is in national defense in a time of war (suspension of Habeas corpus).

Otherwise, any other utilization of eminent domain, particularly in regards to giving the property to a private entity, is stealing. That runs counter to everything that the government exists to do.

Why is this relevant to today’s political discussion?  The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline was been at the center of debate between Republicans in Congress and President Obama. The GOP wants the oil pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, to be approved for construction because it would create jobs. Although the number of jobs has been up for debate a bit. President Obama is hesitant to approve it quickly out of environmental concerns.

What has been missed until recently in all of this is how TransCanada planned on acquiring property. Right now TransCanada is suing landowners in Nebraska and Texas to gain access to their property to build the Keystone pipeline on them. Texas Tea Party groups have begun opposing the pipeline on eminent domain grounds

In September 2011 the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Texas Riceland Partners vs. Denbury Green-Pipeline Texas that using the powers of eminent domain to give property to a private corporation that would only be privately using the property (specifically a gas pipeline in this case) violated the Texas Constitution. In May of 2011 the Texas Legislature passed a law that provided a lot of strength to that ruling.

Nevertheless, utility companies are fighting the ruling and TransCanada is continuing to take Texans to court in order to gain their property for the pipeline.

There are few legitimate examples of the government colluding with big business, but if the government of Texas bows to the pressure of TransCanada, we would have a fine example of a horrible alliance.

Sacrificing the liberties and rights of a few individual for the alleged good of the whole society means that in reality the whole society has lost those liberties and rights and momentarily maintains them as government granted privileges. Conservatives are right to oppose the Keystone pipeline if TransCanada and the government insist on using eminent domain to build the pipeline.

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