You may have heard that on Friday, September 5, the Nebraska Supreme Court heard arguments for thirty minutes from both sides of a case that very well may determine the outcome of the Keystone XL pipeline cutting a swath through Nebraska landowners’ farms and ranches.
This case won’t determine whether the pipe is good or bad, but it will determine if the siting of the Nebraska route was done legally or not. As it stands now, based on a previous district court ruling, the Nebraska legislature passed an unconstitutional law that took the routing decision out of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and gave it to one person, the governor.
The Nebraska Constitution does not grant this power to the governor and for good reason. Nebraskans want decisions like these, dating back to the railroad days, to stay out of the hands of politicians and remain in the hands of a nonpartisan committee, in this case the PSC.
But when Governor Heineman approved the KXL route, he also was giving TransCanada the power of eminent domain, to condemn if necessary and take control of private landowners’ property forever, even though TransCanada does not yet have a permit to build the pipeline into the United States. This is a perfect example of why politicians were not supposed to be part of the decision in the first place.
It is impossible to guess the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling. If it goes the landowners’ way, TransCanada would have to go through the process of applying through the PSC. If the case goes TransCanada’s way, they must still get the approval of the President, as the pipeline would cross our international border.
But what of the simple right and wrong of the pipe? Chances are you own some property; it may be a farm, ranch, business, or a home. Say a foreign company had the opportunity to make billions of dollars for their stockholders, but only if they were allowed by the government to take an easement on your property. What would you do?
Traditionally, eminent domain is used to take private property only when there is a common benefit the actual property owner will realize; a road for example, schools, a railroad, but remember, we are talking about a foreign corporation who intends to use the profits to pay stockholders.
And what about the risk? Are Nebraskans really not concerned the about the risk of a DilBit oil spill and the damage it could do to property, land, water, and most importantly, our health? Of course we are concerned.
TransCanada says the pipe will be safe. They won’t say it will be fail-safe. TransCanada tells us it is a risk we can live with. Nebraskans are stepping up and saying the risk is not worth the reward. Governor Heineman said the pipeline should not cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The governor then said it could cross the aquifer.
So what would you do if a foreign corporation in the quest for additional profits came knocking on your door asking for access and easements on your property? And, they appeared to be doing it without legal permission? This is exactly what is happening to some of our neighbors, and this is wrong.
Although there is a place for eminent domain, this is not that place. Nebraskans are being asked to give more than they would ever receive. The Keystone XL will add fifteen permanent jobs to the Omaha area. That’s it. Counties will receive some property tax for fifteen years until the pipeline is fully depreciated. That’s it. Sure there will be some temporary construction jobs that will fly through, but they will go away quickly. That’s it. There is no guarantee, once this dirty oil is refined that it will stay in the U.S. It will enter the world market. That’s it.
I think Nebraskans are smarter than this. We are great stewards of the land and water, and should never compromise these values for a few pieces of silver. That’s it.
We won’t know the outcome of the Supreme Court for several months. I hope they understand the reasons why politicians were removed from this process a hundred years ago, and the personal sacrifice the people of Nebraska would be forced to make. I hope they decide for the people. That’s it.