Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Repercussions of Pipeline Approvals on Property Rights

Free market proponents often exempt pipeline construction from scrutiny and tend to assume that erring on the side of economic freedom means always supporting approval for pipeline construction. Protests are met with shallow platitudes about 'energy independence', 'job creation', and 'growth', all of which are tentative at best. These platitudes are countered by different platitudes about 'global warming', 'climate change', and 'clean energy.' What is left unexamined in this ruckus are the unintended effects, not on the environment or GDP growth rates, but on one of the very pillars of civilization: property rights. This is why the false dilemma of U.S. politics is called a false dilemma: it assumes only the extremities and omits the intermediates. Under the original 5th amendment, which has been gutted by our criminal government, eminent domain could only be used to seize private property for public use, which is a position I still disagree with because it does not exclude confiscating peoples' homes or businesses. This was changed in Kelo v. City of New London, which gave private corporations eminent domain power and expanded the doctrine of public use to ambiguously mean any development that may result in economic growth. On paper, anyone's property rights can be usurped if someone else comes along and claims they can make better use of the land. The precedent set by this ruling has had a number of implications in recent years, most notably, pipeline companies have used it to seize land from family farms and ranchers, that have held tenure for several generations, under the vague and now worthless public use doctrine.

Back in early 2015 when the KeyStone XL pipeline was the proposed panacea for unemployment, few pundits on either side of the aisle took into consideration the destruction of property rights that would have occurred if Obama had approved the pipeline (this was one of the few times I agreed with him). In Texas alone, 102 landowners, most of them farmers and ranchers, would have been forced to allow a foreign corporation to build a pipeline on their land. They attempted to do the same thing against 90 unwilling landowners in Nebraska without success.

Energy Transfer Partners, the same company tied up in the Dakota Access Pipeline, seized land from ranchers in the Big Bend region of Texas so they could ship gas to Mexico through the Trans-Pesco pipeline. More, recently they used eminent domain against landowners in Iowa and South Dakota to build the pending Dakota Access Pipeline.

The end does not justify the means. Every assault against property rights on the basis of expediency sets a precedent for the further erosion of property rights and draws us a step closer to despotism. This is clear when past assaults against property rights are taken into account; a disturbing trend emerges when the concession of a corporate prerogative to seize private property is taken into consideration with other aggressions against property rights e.g. civil asset forfeiture, anti-structuring laws, warrantless wiretapping, and ever increasing occupational licensing laws. Every aggression builds up political momentum towards an absolutist state, reversing its function from a system that was meant to protect property rights from criminal trespass to a criminal syndicate that destroys property rights.

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