A coalition of environmentalists, conservative property rights activists and landowners are mounting a full court press against TransCanada in an attempt to derail the oil company's attempts to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. On Monday, they won a small victory when a Lamar County judge issued a temporary restraining order against the company's plans to do construction work on a farm near Paris, Texas.
The coalition's efforts are reminiscent of another battle during the last decade over eminent domain in Texas, concerning a massive "superhighway," known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, that Republican Gov. Rick Perry had sought to build with the help of a Spanish company. Perry lost that fight to a coalition of conservative ranchers and environmentalists, dealing him a serious political blow.
"We are involved because it's starting to look a whole lot like the Trans-Texas Corridor battle," said Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "When push comes to shove, it's clear to me that my party is more interested in oil and gas interests than property rights," added Hall, a Republican.
Debra Medina, a property rights activist and Republican, has counted 89 cases so far in Texas where TransCanada had exercised eminent domain, she said. The company cites the pipeline's status as a "common carrier" under Texas law as the reason for its ability to use governmental power to take land. Eminent domain battles have periodically erupted as TransCanada has bought easements on property for the pipeline that would cross six U.S. states if built.
The company has generally tried to settle with landowners, or route the pipeline around those who refuse compensation terms. But in Lamar County, the pipeline company took Julia Trigg Crawford's farm by eminent domain. Crawford's lawyer asked for a temporary restraining order, disputing the notion that the pipeline is a "common carrier" as Texas law requires for eminent domain and questioning whether the company adequately considered the Caddo tribe artifacts on Crawford's land.
On Monday, County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris said the company couldn't go forward with construction on the land at least until a Feb. 24 court hearing. TransCanada had refused to consent to a "standstill" agreement that would have prevented work on the pipeline until March 1.
"I would never categorize myself as an environmentalist," Crawford told HuffPost. "I'm just a steward of my family's land." She lives with her 78-year-old father on a 600-acre farm near Paris that her grandfather bought in 1948. "I have no political affiliation," she said. "I'm just a girl that wants to protect a thing my grandfather bought."
The farm owner also alleges that TransCanada behaved in a "duplicitous" manner when it claimed it had already secured all the necessary permits for the pipeline.
"The eminent domain process is well established, and we follow the process that is set out by law in each state," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said in a statement. "In Texas, we already have easement agreements in place with over 99 per cent of the landowners along the in-state portion of Keystone XL."
Despite the Obama administration's recent decision denying an environmental permit for the pipeline, which would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to Texas refineries, TransCanada is pressing forward with its plans to apply for another permit. The company announced in an earnings report on Tuesday that it expected the pipeline to start operating in 2015.