TX rice farmers sue TransCanada over eminent domain

Link to article here.

Texas landowners fight use of eminent-domain laws in Keystone XL Pipeline development

Thursday, September 13, 2012
9/13/2012 3:29:12 AM

TransCanada Corp. shouldn't be allowed to use eminent-domain laws to seize land to build the southern leg of its Keystone XL Pipeline near Beaumont, Texas, lawyers for property owners told a judge.

A recent Texas Supreme Court decision may give the landowners the right to prevent TransCanada from taking land for the pipeline, Terry Wood, an attorney for Texas Rice Land Partners, said at a hearing in state court in Beaumont on Wednesday.

That decision limited the ability of pipeline owners to condemn property under certain circumstances. The landowners in Beaumont are fighting to keep Calgary-based TransCanada from immediately entering their properties and starting construction before lawyers and lawmakers have explored what the ruling means.

"This is a case of what's expedient for the pipeline company versus the constitutional rights of landowners," Wood told Jefferson County Court at Law Judge Tom Rugg Sr. Wood urged Rugg to stall condemnation of Texas Rice Land's property.

"You realize you might be asking me to delay the resolution of this case for years," Rugg told Wood.

"That is a possibility," Wood replied.

The judge gave lawyers until Sept. 21 to provide additional briefing and promised to rule by Sept. 24.

"I am concerned that the rights of landowners not be trampled unless there's clear statutory authority to do so," he said.

Tom Zabel, TransCanada's lawyer, told Rugg the pipeline operator believes it has the right under an 1899 Texas statute to start construction without obtaining so-called writs of possession through condemnation proceedings such as the ones today in Beaumont. He said the company has filed the appropriate paperwork and posted the required bonds and should be allowed to proceed as pipelines have traditionally done in Texas.

"Once we've done that, we're entitled to the easements we're seeking. It's that simple," Zabel told Rugg. "The Texas Legislature came up with this scheme because it wanted to encourage oil and gas exploitation, and you can't have oil and gas without pipelines. This is something that's been determined in Texas for more than 100 years."

Zabel said the supreme court ruling doesn't apply to the type of pipeline TransCanada is planning with the Keystone XL.

The ruling, which also involved Texas Rice Land Partners in a lawsuit against a different pipeline, was a "game changer" with statewide implications for pipeline companies, Wood said in an interview after the hearing.

"Before that decision, the pipelines just assumed that, if they said it loud enough and enough times, they had the right" to condemn private property for pipelines, Wood said.

TransCanada began construction last month on part of the 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline, which is designed to bring oil from tar sands of western Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, Brad Johnson, a company spokesman, said in an interview after the hearing.

The initial stretch of pipeline will connect Cushing, Okla., and Nederland, Texas, he said.

Critics of the Keystone XL claim the ruling also requires that pipelines operate for the public good in order to use eminent domain.


Link to article here.

Here's why Texas landowners can't afford to have the Texas Railroad Commission decide common carrier status of pipeline companies -- Rick Perry's cronyism.

Perry staffer takes helm at Texas Railroad Commission

Published 6:20 p.m., Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Milton Rister, a top official of Gov. Rick Perry's administration, will be the next executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state's top regulator of the energy industry.

The Texas Railroad Commission announced Tuesday that Rister, a longtime stalwart of Texas' Republican Party and currently Gov. Rick Perry's director of administration, will take the helm Oct. 1. He follows John Tintera, who retired in April after 22 years at the commission and two years as executive director. Polly McDonald has served as the interim executive director.

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