This land is our land (sort of) Print
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 December 2017 17:15

A federal court decision that undermines one of the most basic rights of a democratic capitalist society threatens Wisconsin residents more than citizens of many other states.
    You can blame the state Legislature for that—for taking property rights away from citizens and giving them to business entities to commandeer private land for profit based on the court ruling.
    You can blame five justices for the monumental mistake that is a leading contender for the worst U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 21st century.
    The decision in Kelo vs. New London, Conn. held that government could force private property owners to sell their land, even force homeowners to sell their homes, for economic development projects.
    The 2005 decision was a shocking expansion of the power of eminent domain, which had historically been used by government to acquire land for public projects benefitting all citizens, by extending that power to benefit business interests in the name of economic development.
    The majority in the 5-4 decision included the court’s four liberal members plus Justice Anthony Kennedy. Conservatives on the court and elsewhere were outraged, as they should have been, but the decision was so fundamentally alien to the American concept of property rights that people of all political persuasions condemned it.
    The backlash was so furious that 45 states enacted laws limiting eminent domain, resulting, according Ilya Somin, Cato Institute scholar and author of an authoritative book on property rights, “in substantially increased protection for property rights in numerous states.”
    But not in Wisconsin. Here Republican legislators slipped wording into the 2015 state budget that “conveys authority to condemn real estate and personal property to corporations that transmit oil or related products in pipelines in Wisconsin.”
    Today the impact of that political favor to a pipeline company worth more than $35 billion, which had been spending some of that money to lobby the Legislature, is hitting property owners up and down the state along a petroleum pipeline corridor from Superior to the Illinois border.
    Erosion of property rights is not just a theoretical affront to the liberty of citizens; it has real consequences. Thanks to the Kelo decision, people in Connecticut lost their homes, even though the promised economic development from condos and office buildings never came to pass. Thanks to the Wisconsin Legislature’s use of the decision’s property-grabbing license to give the Public Service Commission the power to extend condemnation rights to benefit private industry, property owners have seen their land and landscape torn up for pipeline construction and been forced to live with pipes full of oil coursing through their property.
    The company that is benefitting from the lawmakers’ generosity with other people’s land is Enbridge, Inc., the same Canadian corporation that, as environmental journalist and author Dan Egan has documented in splendid in-depth reporting in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is threatening the pristine waters of northern Lake Michigan and Huron with aged and poorly maintained petroleum pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac.
    Enbridge’s land-based Wisconsin oil-pumping operation, the Superior to Illinois pipeline, brings little economic benefit to state residents. Wisconsin land is merely a host for the pipes carrying oil from one of the world’s most environmentally damaging sources of fossil fuel, the tar sands deposits in western Canada.
    The people of Wisconsin can’t do much about the U.S. Supreme Court or, for that matter, a Canadian oil-pumping company digging up private property, but they can hold their elected representatives accountable. And a Legislature that is dominated by self-described conservatives but flouts the fundamental conservative principle of citizens’ property rights certainly has some accounting to do.