Texas Landowner Fighting Oil Giant Is Pleasantly Surprised That Texas Supreme Court Looked Kindly on Her Case

Categories: Environment

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Julia Crawford
Pretend that a corporation from China wants to build a factory in Texas just for the fun of it and needs to seize a bunch of Texans' private property to build the factory, because it's going to be really big and awesome. Do you think the Texas Supreme Court would stand for that? Probably not.

And so, environmentalists are attempting to make a similar, pro-property rights argument to stop the southern portion of the Keystone Pipeline in its tracks. Sure, they could try to challenge TransCanada for safety reasons, pointing out that its Gulf Coast pipeline already had to be dug up for potential repairs 125 times.

But defending private property is a popular issue here, and using that tactic in court lately seems to be sort of effective. The Texas Supreme Court has just allowed a landowner's case against TransCanada to go forward, even though the lower courts had previously refused to hear it.

TransCanada isn't too worried. Construction on the 485-mile southern leg of its Keystone Pipeline, called Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, is already complete. The company confidently announced before New Year's that the pipeline would begin service on January 22.

But now, TransCanada is going to have to answer some questions from the Texas Supreme Court. "The Supreme Court of Texas requests that respondent file a response to the petition," says a dry notice the court issued on Tuesday.

Environmentalists describe that notice as a "clear victory."

The Supreme Court could have just tossed the case out without asking TransCanada to turn in any paperwork at all. "It's not a huge victory, but it's the first time the courts, at least in our case, have said, 'No, TransCanada, you can't get everything the way you want it,'" landowner Julia Trigg Crawford tells Unfair Park. OK, that's victory-ish.

TransCanada says no, that everyone is just reading into things. "Despite claims to the contrary, there has been no Texas Supreme Court ruling in Ms. Trigg Crawford's favor. The Court has simply requested a response to her claim as part of the Texas Supreme Court process," TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata tells Unfair Park via email.

Crawford lives and works at a 650-acre farm in Lamar County. In 2008, TransCanada offered her the sum of $7,000 for lifetime control of it. She rejected the offer, and subsequent higher ones, so TransCanada then got approval from the Texas Railroad Commission for rights to her land through eminent domain.

Crawford is pissed. Sure, she still lives and works there. But now there's a pipeline running through her pasture, which she didn't want.

In court, Crawford has pointed out that TransCanada is not a local company (look at the name) and notes that the pipeline will mostly be transporting Canadian tar sands.

"A foreign corporation pumping foreign oil simply does not qualify as a common carrier under Texas law," Crawford argues.

While the Texas Railroad commission and lower courts have disagreed, there is some indication that the Texas Supreme Court might side with Crawford.

In 2012, the state's highest court sided with property owners fighting a different project, the Denbury Green Pipeline. The court ruled at the time that the pipeline company needed to prove a project was for the public good before seizing people's land, and criticized the eminent domain procedure that the Texas Railroad Commission had allowed. "Private property is constitutionally protected, and a private enterprise cannot acquire condemnation power merely by checking boxes on a one-page form," the court said at the time.

TransCanada says it will "prepare and file a response shortly" to the supreme court.

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11 comments
whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

Just wait until there is an oil spill on her land.


paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

conservatives in name only..should be called by more appropriate names that start with C - corporatists or cunts

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Best we can hope for is Crawford gets real money,

we get better look inside RRC,

and we break the path to Governor that begins there.

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

Republicans hate eminent domain and the gubbment seizing your god given property! erm... except when its for pumping oil... 

TimRuggiero
TimRuggiero

A foreign corporation installed a foreign made pipe on an American's private property to transport foreign tar sands oil to refineries to then ship and sell to Asia. In other words, a foreign corporation has a greater right to Crawford's property more than she does because the Texas Railroad Commission doesn't believe in pirvate property rights.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

So if they rule the seizure was illegal, what happens to the pipe that is already built? Does TransCanada have to pay to remove it and re - route the line?

James080
James080 topcommenter

@TimRuggiero 

Follow the money. The TRCC is a stepping stone agency for oil industry-funded politicians to get their feet wet and their name in print. In exchange for the cash, the TRCC pretty much gives the energy industry free reign in Texas.

amy.silverstein
amy.silverstein

In theory that could happen, Crawford will ask them to take it out if she wins. But likelihood of that actually happening isn't clear, there's not much of a precedent. It didn't happen yet with Denbury, even though Supreme Court sided with landowners there. Instead, the Supreme Court just sent its opinion back down to the district court to argue about it some more. 

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

@amy.silverstein Ok then, the follow-up question is if it is ruled illegal, does that put a stay on oil flowing through the line? Would the entire pipeline be stopped until a settlement is reached with this woman, a judgement has been made, or a redirection can be built?

amy.silverstein
amy.silverstein

Not necessarily, it's up to the court to decide what should happen if they rule the eminent domain was illegal. I don't know if the Supreme Court has the authority to stop the entire pipeline from running. I will get back to you on that!

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