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Opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline

keystoneEchoes of support for the Keystone XL Pipeline are currently emanating from all corners of the libertarian community. Just this morning the Cato Institute’s Chip Knappenberger joined the chorus line:

On Friday, the State Department released its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline. It could not have been much worse for pipeline opponents.

The majority of the opposition has united around the climate change meme—that the approval of the Keystone XL will assure the viability of the Alberta tar sands as a major global oil supplier, a situation which they claim would mean “game over” for the climate.

I have been arguing that such a characterization of the project is nonsense.

The State Department sees things the same as me.

So when it comes to, say, Benghazi the State Department is incompetent and not to be trusted, but when the State Department gives it’s stamp of approval to a project you support then everything is just fine and dandy? Right, got it.

Megan McArdle weighed in last Friday with some odd justifications of her own for the pipeline:

If we fail to build Keystone, it’s not like the Canadians will give up on oil production and refocus their economy around poutine and mounty movies; they’ll just move the oil some other way.  For example, by train or truck, which takes more energy than a pipeline.  Or they’ll build a pipeline through pristine British Columbian rain forest rather than open Nebraska farmland.

The cryptic message here appears to be, “Attention environmentalists: If you oppose the pipeline then the Canadians will have no other choice but to wreak environmental havoc by extracting oil in an inefficient manner.” It’s an inspiring message. Even Reason’s Nick Gillespie boils it down to the oversimplification of the pipeline being a net plus for the economy without causing environmental disaster.

Yet absent in all of these aforementioned cost-benefit persuasions as to why we should proceed with Keystone are the considerations of and impacts on private property.  For champions of free markets to utter such shows of support with an abject neglect for property rights and justice for the commons is disconcerting to say the least. It should be a libertarian no-brainer to “emphatically and unequivocally oppose the pipeline,” as Jason Lee Byas notes:

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 Corporation 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.”

Image via The Daily Caller

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