Courtroom Showdown Challenges TransCanada's Right to Eminent Domain over Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline
On Aug. 10, statewide groups of all political persuasions went to the Lamar County courthouse to support Texas landowner Julia Trigg Crawford against TransCanada, which has announced plans to start building the southern segment of the Keystone pipeline to carry tar sands crude from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
The courtroom showdown marked the first landmark battle following a recent Supreme Court case ruling in favor of landowners. Crawford’s hearing is the first case since the Supreme Court ruling to protect private property from an illegal taking. Julia Trigg Crawford, along with her attorney Wendi Hammond, faced Judge Bill Harris and a team of TransCanada lawyers in a packed courtroom of observers with an overflow crowd for more than six hours. Crawford’s attorney contended that TransCanada is a foreign-owned pipeline carrying tar sands for private profit, challenging its qualifications as a common carrier with eminent domain rights.
Texas courts have long held that property owners could not challenge property takings by pipelines, but a recent, unanimous Texas Supreme Court decision, which highlighted the fight between Texas Rice Land Partners versus Denbury Green Pipeline changed that equation. In the Denbury Green court case, the justices unanimously ruled that the pipeline company had to prove it was meeting the state’s statutes and serving a common good before it should be given the right to “take” private property.
“Today the eyes of Texas were shining upon the Judge in this case. All of us were here to see if he would stand up to protect landowners from illegal takings or side with a foreign pipeline company. The Crawford case begged the question of whether Judge Bill Harris would allow a hearing on the facts or whether he would deny a landowner justice in favor of this Canadian company,” said Debra Medina, former gubernatorial candidate and executive director of We Texans, a nonpartisan public policy advocacy group. “It appears we will not get our answer today. The court has been saddled with volumes of paper and will take it, along with the arguments, heard today into consideration before rendering its decision. A decision may be rendered as early as Wednesday.”
“However, it is disappointing that the court granted TransCanada the right to start trenching with a writ of possession,” Medina added.
“Why are Texans made to fend for themselves against the likes of corporations like TransCanada?” Medina asked. “The leaders of this state often talk about protecting property rights—but when the abuse starts, they stand up for the politically influential. This is in keeping with the crony capitalist lethargy that grips Austin. They pretend to see and hear no evil. The fervor by which people from all political stripes came here today to rally for the Crawford’s cause should make it clear: Texans are tired of abuse at the hands of big business and big donors.”
“The Texas Railroad Commission approved TransCanada’s permit to operate a pipeline as a common carrier, yet the agency has stated that it doesn’t review the applications for pipelines and doesn’t have the authority to determine common carrier status or give eminent domain permission to TransCanada,” commented Jessica Ellison, spokeswoman from Independent Texans. “TransCanada has yet to prove to the court that they meet the legal requirements of transporting the product for the public good or for public use.”
With the threat of imminent trenching for TransCanada’s southern pipeline segment to begin, landowners such as David Daniel of Winnsboro have now told TransCanada that it can no longer come on his property. Daniel has recently been served with notice by TransCanada that they are seeking a court order with the threat of damages should he continue to refuse entry onto his property. Daniel’s Winnsboro neighbor, Susan Scott, has also recently refused the entry of surveyors on her land.
"Here we've had a private company masquerading as a 'common carrier' pipeline in order to obtain the power of eminent domain in Texas. The Crawford family, along with those landowners supporting her today and more than 90 other landowners, have had their land condemned by TransCanada. These landowners deserve to be protected from eminent domain abuse before irreparable harm is done to their property," contended Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "It's an outrage that in a state that claims to be pro-property rights, that there's absolutely no state authority checking to see whether or not these private companies meet the legal requirements of a public use pipeline. Landowners should not be put in the position of law enforcers at great personal expense."
Recently, the Texas House Land and Resource Management Committee met at the Capitol to hear invited testimony from Crawford and other interested parties regarding the dilemma of industries self-proclaiming they are common carriers with no review from any state agency as to whether a company is truly a common carrier or not.
“The answers we need may not lie ultimately in this Judge’s decision, the answer may lie an appeals court. The final outcome will also be laid at the foot of the Texas legislature to do something about this kind of abuse," noted Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, executive director of Public Citizen. “We have already begun the process of pointing out the grave inequities of companies being able to walk into the Railroad Commission saying ‘trust us,' we’re a common carrier, and then be granted eminent domain authority without the needed checks and balances and review by an authorized government agency. That needs to change with the next legislative session.”
“Regardless that there were no decisions made today, it is clear that more steps need to be taken,” remarked Linda Curtis, director of Indy Texans. “Ms. Crawford’s case is emblematic of the continuing struggle of Texas landowners being tread upon by a private company, taking land for private use, and foreign profit. In the revolutionary words of those who’ve come before us, ‘we’ve not yet begun to fight’…and this court case makes it evident that more landowners like Ms. Crawford need to stand up and be heard.”
The trial before Judge Harris marked the continuation of proceedings which began in Paris on Feb. 13. TransCanada’s attorneys have complained that the delay of the start of its southern segment has cost the company $3 to $4 million per day.
The southern segment of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline encompasses a 485-mile trek from Cushing to refineries on the Gulf coast. In Texas, more than 1,450 parcels of land have been acquired by TransCanada in its pursuit of construction on the pipeline which has been slated to commence any day pending any further legal delays. Ms. Crawford’s 600-acre farm near Sumner, north of Paris, signifies the last tract in contention between Cushing and the refineries on the Gulf Coast.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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