Landowner Julia Trigg Crawford and her attorney Wendi Hammond announced that they have filed their appeal against TransCanada with the 6th Court of Appeals in Texarkana. The brief disputes TransCanada’s attempt at taking Crawford’s property on the basis that TransCanada has yet to prove the company is a common carrier, but is instead a private foreign company utilizing its pipeline for private gain.
“Our appellate brief is now in front of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and we are confident this panel of experienced judges will give all the issues the thoughtful consideration and thorough review they deserve,” noted landowner Julia Trigg Crawford. “Since the lower court’s ruling against us in August we’ve worked diligently to elevate the dialogue around property rights and eminent domain abuse.”
“Since before 1920, the Texas legislature wisely limited the enormous power of eminent domain authority to a common carrier subject to the Texas Railroad Commission’s (RRC) jurisdiction and other legal requirements. In the Crawford family’s case, the RRC admitted it does not have jurisdiction over TransCanada’s pipeline, but the trial court allowed TransCanada to take the Crawford’s private land anyway,” commented Hammond, Crawford family farm attorney. “This decision highlights a serious problem, not just for the Crawfords, but for many families across Texas. Now this important matter will be decided by a higher court.”
Groups including We Texans and Public Citizen are supporting Crawford and her family in their continuing resolve to pursue this landowner’s case to a higher court. The groups view this precedent setting case as a private company attempting to take land for private use and foreign profit.
Debra Medina, executive director of We Texans, applauded the Crawford family’s courage in continuing their opposition to the taking of their property. “We agree with the Crawford family in believing that there has been an erroneous ruling against them and hope that the appellate court will right that wrong. In doing so, the court can protect not only the Crawford Family farm, but also set a precedent that will ensure the law is followed and all private property in Texas is duly protected.”
“What’s at stake here is whether the state should allow a public agency to allow condemnation for private gain. The Crawford case is emblematic of the failure of the Texas Railroad Commission to effectively ensure that companies doing business in Texas are indeed a common carrier,” commented Tom Smitty Smith of Public Citizen. “The State has laid this burden of proving up common carrier upon landowners such as the Crawfords, while the proof should be incumbent upon those who want to business here in Texas. The entire process needs to be overhauled.”
“The Railroad Commission allowed TransCanada to have the status of a common carrier, yet the agency has stated that it doesn’t have the authority to give eminent domain powers to TransCanada,” added Smith. “TransCanada has yet to prove to the court that they are transporting the product for the public good or for the public for hire as required by law.”
“Currently, there is a loophole in Texas law that allows a company to simply check a box on a one page form at the Railroad Commission that allows companies to declare themselves a common carrier without any checks and balances,” noted Rita Beving, North Texas Public Citizen organizer. “Last summer we started a dialogue with the Land & Resource Management Committee in the Texas House of Representatives regarding this problem. We are hoping the matter of common carrier and eminent domain gets rectified during this year’s legislative session.”
“I’ve testified to legislative subcommittees at our state Capitol, shared my story with the Sunset Commission in their review of the embattled Texas Railroad Commission, and traveled to Washington, D.C. twice to speak to government agency representatives and support groups,” Crawford added. “At the heart of this issue is the fact the Texas Railroad Commission has seemingly abandoned Texas landowners. By their own admission, they are aware that companies use the T-4 form to demonstrate to the public that the company is operating as a common carrier pipeline with eminent domain authority when, in fact, the RRC operating permit provides no evidence of that fact at all.”
“What was once just the voice of Texas landowners is now a national issue, with all eyes upon Texas and whether our Legislature will step up to repair this grossly flawed land condemnation process,” Crawford concluded. “I stand at the ready to continue shining a light on what’s really happening on the ground to Texas landowners as we protect our land, and we look forward to a positive outcome in our appeal.”
TransCanada has initiated construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline along its 485-mile trek from Cushing to the Texas coast. TransCanada will pump Canadian tar sands crude or Dilbit to refineries on the Gulf coast. The northern segment of the Keystone XL awaits approval by the State Department for its presidential permit.
In the meantime Enbridge, TransCanada’s Canadian competitor, has begun surveying for an additional twin line to the existing Seaway pipeline near the DFW area. Both Enbridge’s 36-year old repurposed Seaway pipeline and the new twin line will carry tar sands from Cushing, Oklahoma to the coast. The dual Enbridge lines are expected to exceed Keystone’s capacity with 850,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.
Enbridge is currently responsible for the largest and most expensive onshore spill in history. The Michigan spill occurred in July 2010 carrying tar sands crude through a 43-year old repurposed line in Michigan. Two years and more than $850 million later, the spill is still being cleaned up on the Kalamazoo River.
“Landowner fights such as that of the Crawford family with TransCanada have sparked a new battle on a whole new front with another Canadian company,” Beving concluded. “Many of us are now getting calls from landowners worried about Enbridge, which also plans to carry dangerous Dilbit crude through its pipelines from Cushing to the coast.”