Keystone XL Opponents Hypocritically Talk Property Rights

Published April 19, 2013

Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline are increasingly trumpeting private property rights as a reason people should oppose the pipeline. Drawing upon small-government conservatives’ wariness of the federal government abusing its eminent domain power, environmental activist groups are suddenly presenting themselves as champions of limited government and private property. If Keystone XL opponents showed signs of applying their newfound fervor for private property rights to all proposed energy sources, this would be an encouraging sign. Unfortunately, however, all signs point to the environmental activists advocating private property rights solely to the detriment of affordable energy.

During the past few weeks environmental activist groups have inundated my email inbox with patriotic-sounding calls for conservatives to stand up against big-government using its eminent domain power on behalf of Keystone XL. A quick Bing News (or Google News, if that is your pleasure) search of the terms “Keystone” and “eminent domain” shows environmental activists are targeting more than just my inbox with eminent domain appeals.

On the surface, the environmental activists make a good point. Government often abuses its Fifth Amendment eminent domain power to forcibly obtain private property, with or without the Constitutionally required “just compensation.” This is especially troubling when government forcibly obtains private property and then immediately turns it over to another private party. Our government can certainly afford to take a few steps back in this realm, and our nation would be the better for it.

On the other hand, environmental extremists are engaging in deplorable, unethical hypocrisy when they lead property rights revolts against projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline while all the time championing similar government abuses when obtaining land for transmission lines for controversial wind and solar power projects. (See, for example, what environmental activists are imposing upon property owners near San Diego while championing renewable power.)

Politicians and environmental activist groups who appeal to private property rights as a reason to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline should be required to abide by their own private property rights advocacy when hereafter pushing for costly, affordable energy-killing renewable power projects. I share the concerns of private property advocates regarding Keystone XL. I also believe everybody should be required to play by the same set of rules.