When the Texas Supreme Court agreed to take a look at the case, The Crawford Family Farm Partnership vs. TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LLC. it's a fair bet that everyone and their dog thought the justices would have their minds made up before they even got the case file.
Well, it seems everyone and their dog were misinformed, because the Texas Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Julia Trigg Crawford and ordered TransCanada to submit information by February 6. The justices are gearing up to hear oral arguments on the eminent domain case that pits a soybean farmer against the company that is intent on building a 3,812-mile-long pipeline that will eventually tote more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court made using eminent domain to force the sale of private land easier with the ruling in Kelb vs. City of New London back in 2005, companies have been wielding eminent domain like a club.
In Texas, eminent domain with pipeline companies is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission. The thinking goes, companies working on pipelines that are classified as common carriers are doing projects that are considered for public benefit. The Railroad Commission "regulates" by having whoever is filling out the paperwork check off a box classifying the pipeline as a common carrier, so basically there's no regulation at all.
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The argument with the Crawford case is that TransCanada, a foreign company, doesn't have the right to use eminent domain to force the sale of land to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to run sticky Canadian Tar Sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Crawford, the owner of a farm that has been in her family for generations, has been locked in a legal battle with TransCanada since 2011. After she refused to sell the land, the company filed to use eminent domain to force the sale.
The Keystone project is on hold on the national level, caught in regulatory limbo by the State Department which has off making a decision on the contentious issue for years now. Meanwhile Crawford has continued working through the Texas court system, even after the pipeline was laid in her pasture last May.
After the appeals court sided with the corporation in 2012 it seemed, based on a long history of the Texas Supreme Court being very cuddly with the oil industry, that the odds of the justices agreeing to hearing the case weren't high. Well, somewhere out there Crawford is hopefully walking around saying, "Never tell me the odds," a la Han Solo. Come February TransCanada has to get its paperwork in, and by gosh the Supreme Court is at least hearing the case.