Eminent domain is not a good reason to build the Keystone Pipeline

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Letter to the Editor,


The Keystone XL pipeline has inspired a lot of controversy. For defenders of freed markets, however, it shouldn’t. Libertarians should emphatically and unequivocally oppose the pipeline.

Yet leading libertarian magazine Reason has put out a video detailing “three reasons to build the pipeline.” Editor Nick Gillespie explains:

“1. The oil isn’t going to stay buried; 2. The pipeline isn’t a disaster waiting to happen; 3. It will help the economy.”

Just for the sake of argument, let’s concede all three of these points. Libertarians should still oppose the pipeline, because libertarians value property rights — and the pipeline as conceived is a giant monument to political government’s disregard for the property rights of everyday people.

Since beginning to plan Keystone XL, TransCanada Corp. has used eminent domain to steal more than a hundred tracts of land in Texas alone. If it gets the green light, the pipeline will run up through the plains like a burglar on a spree.

Of course, the company does initially offer those who have what they want a chance to make the transaction voluntarily. When that doesn’t work, though, unsuspecting landowners receive letters like the one Julia Trigg Crawford got, saying “If Keystone is unable to successfully negotiate the voluntary acquisition of the necessary easements, it will have to resort to the exercise of its statutory right of eminent domain.”

As Lysander Spooner once remarked, at least a highwayman “does not pretend that he has any rightful claim” to your property.

If you’re like the Crawfords, any deviation from that final offer and you’ll hear nothing from TransCanada until your land’s condemned. As word spreads, landowners feel threatened. They scramble to agree with whatever crumbs they’re offered, before their land just gets taken instead.

Even when eminent domain isn’t directly used, the transaction can hardly be called “voluntary.” Such means become darker still when we consider that they’re being used to override tribal sovereignty and build over Native American burial grounds, like those of the Sac and Fox Nation. 

Apparently, not even death can save the Sac and Fox from colonists intent on destroying their homes.

Why does Gillespie ask us to accept this outright theft, intimidation and domination of landowners by corporate elites and their state puppets? “It will help the economy.”

In other words, literally the exact reasoning that let the city of New London steal Susette Kelo’s home in 2005. Back then, Gillespie’s co-editor, Matt Welch, rightly called the defense offered by the New York Times an “anti-populist, ends-justify-the-means approach on … naked display.”

Unless Gillespie and other pro-pipeline libertarians are willing to disagree with Welch and start defending the Kelo decision, they should rethink their position on Keystone. Surely, the property rights of the Crawfords, the Sac and Fox Nation, and TransCanada’s other victims, are just as sacrosanct as Kelo’s.

A pro-pipeline libertarian might respond that they don’t support the eminent domain, just the pipeline. But this is impossible.

TransCanada’s pipeline is inseparable from its criminal actions pursuant to building that pipeline. 

Whatever justifications are offered for a hypothetical, peacefully acquired pipeline do not justify the real-world pipeline. At least no more than justifications for a hypothetical parking lot would justify one built by taking a wrecking ball to Nick Gillespie’s home.

If the title “libertarian” is to mean anything, it must mean a defense of justice. It cannot, and must not, mean endorsing feudalism whenever “it’s good for the economy.”


— Jason Lee Byas

Philosophy senior

 at the University of Oklahoma

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