Why Have We Established The Property Rights and Pipeline Center?

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THE ISSUE

The Property Rights and Pipeline Center (PRPC) is committed to ending the use of eminent domain for oil and gas pipelines. We created the organization to serve as a network and a hub for the wide array of United States residents who are trying to protect their land from those who would take it without their consent to build these pipelines.  This includes farmers, ranchers, homeowners, state governments, land trusts devoted to protecting pristine and environmentally sensitive areas, and many others.  We are determined to fight oil and gas infrastructure that takes land without the consent of its owners and puts treacherous pipelines under their homes and in protected forests, water supplies, farms and neighborhoods. 

Today, pipeline companies are allowed to forcibly take land from unwilling property owners due to questionable court cases that have severely limited the rights of property owners under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.  Eminent domain—the process by which property is involuntarily taken from those who do not wish to sell—has historically been used mostly by government agencies to build government-owned projects, such as schools, hospitals and roads.  

When it comes to pipelines, however, both the federal government (through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and most state governments can authorize private companies to take private land so long as they pay “just compensation”—a dollar-amount that rarely seems “just” to the person whose property is being taken.  This use of eminent domain for private gain can be devastating to farmers, ranchers and other property owners.  And it doesn’t matter if the land is in a conservation trust or is supposed to be forever wild – it can still be taken and a pipeline placed underneath. This misuse of eminent domain encourages the development of new oil and gas pipelines and ties us to a fossil fuel future we don’t want or need. It is not right for fossil fuel corporations to take land by eminent domain solely for private gain.

Across America, more municipalities, citizens and landowners every day push back as pipeline companies threaten their land and safety. Many pipeline fights and legal battles are going on today throughout the country. Many of the people in these local fights feel alone and powerless. We believe we can change that by connecting these folks to others fighting the same fight. We hope to inject energy, meaningful assistance, and community so that soon we can speak with a powerful, unified voice for property rights and a clean energy future in all corners of this country.  

To spearhead our fight against eminent domain by oil and gas pipeline companies, we have established the Property Rights and Pipeline Center Through contacts that we have among legal, advocacy, academic and private sector organizations, we expect that the Center will provide much-needed legal, legislative, and organizing expertise and support to local and national efforts to stop pipeline development through litigation, local action, and new legislation.  It will research and publicize the dangers that pipelines pose to the environment and to private property rights.  And it will build a broad and ideologically diverse coalition of local and national organizations concerned about both property rights and the dangerous build-out of pipelines.

What the Center will do

We will initially focus on the following priorities:

  1. Litigation Support: While the Center will not itself engage in litigation, it will encourage and support local lawsuits opposing the use of eminent domain to build oil and gas pipelines on private and public property.  In addition, it will work with lawyers at the national level who are interested in the development of a comprehensive litigation strategy on eminent domain for pipelines.
     
  2. State Legislative Research:  While the Center itself does not expect to engage in lobbying, it plans to research and perhaps assist in drafting new state legislation to stop oil and gas pipelines from being constructed over the objections of landowners and local governments. Legislation to restrict the right of oil pipeline companies to take land by eminent domain is pending in several states and has been enacted into law in Georgia and South Carolina.  Eventually we hope to be a clearinghouse on state legislation and offer model bills.
     
  3. Federal Legislative Research:  In Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), the Supreme Court broadly construed the term “public use” and, thus, the government’s power to condemn or authorize condemnation of private property and transfer its ownership to new private parties for economic development purposes. The Property Rights and Pipeline Center has begun and will continue working with those interested in federal legislation to protect property rights from pipeline developers. 
     
  4. Coalition Building:  The Center will nurture a broad and ideologically diverse coalition of local and national organizations dedicated to ending eminent domain abuse by the fossil fuel industry and others. There is already wide-ranging interest across the ideological spectrum in stopping government from abusing its eminent domain power by taking or authorizing the taking of property from one owner and transferring it to a private party for that party’s financial gain. Those who share these concerns, however, have yet to organize themselves on a national scale.  We will suggest to leading national environmental and property rights groups that they devote resources to the issue of taking of property by pipeline companies.

  5. Public Education/White Papers:  The Center will publicize the dangers that oil and gas pipelines pose to the environment and to private property rights.  We would especially like to focus attention on the massive scale of the proposed national pipeline build-out, which has not yet been appreciated by the media, the public, policymakers and politicians.
     
  6. A National Network of Pipeline Lawyers:  The Center has already established the first national network of lawyers with a wide variety of specialties who are fighting pipeline development and has begun bringing together these lawyers to share strategies and information.  We will continue to invite lawyers to participate in this network, ask participants to exchange relevant legal documents and assist property owners in their legal battles.  

We believe this is an important issue whose time has come. What do you think? We would like to hear from you – especially if you are involved in a property rights fight against a pipeline.