America's Next Eminent Domain Battle: the Keystone XL Pipeline

Although the Obama administration is still weighing whether to give the Keystone XL pipeline the necessary approvals to begin construction, the courts are already deciding that eminent domain can be used to secure access to private land.

According to Steven Mufson, "the vast majority of landowners have signed agreements with TransCanada" to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to traverse their private lands on its route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. However, "where necessary, the Calgary, Alberta-based company is busy going to state courts to exercise eminent domain and lining up rights to cross properties throughout the Great Plains," reigniting "the emotional issue of eminent domain - the taking of private property for public use - all along its proposed route," writes Mufson.

With courts already siding with the pipeline owners, approval of the project by the federal government may clear any potential barriers to the widespread application of eminent domain. And, reportedly, TransCanada is using the threat of eminent domain to pressure landowners into reaching agreement with the company. 

Nevertheless, some landowners like John Harter, who view the project as driven by "greed, not need" continue to holdout. 

"'Negotiating with TransCanada having right of eminent domain is like having somebody trying to rob you at gunpoint and arguing for your billfold when there's nothing in it,' Harter said. When a company representative threatened to use eminent domain, he recalled, 'I said, ‘I will not be bullied into signing.' "

Full Story: Keystone XL pipeline is issue of property rights for some ranchers

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