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Testimony of Ben Gotschall on LB 473: No eminent domain for private gain

Photo by Elliott D. Woods

Photo of Ben Gotschall by Elliott D. Woods

(Testimony of Bold Nebraska energy director and Davey Road Ranch proprietor Ben Gotschall, to be delivered in support of LB 473 during Wednesday’s 1:30 p.m. hearing before the Nebraska State Legislature’s Judiciary Committee):

“What seems like a long time ago, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska started getting letters from a company called TransCanada. The letters said that TransCanada wanted to build a crude oil pipeline through Nebraska, and that TransCanada needed the landowners to sign easement agreements in order for them to do so. Some landowners signed the agreements immediately, some didn’t.

The ones who didn’t started getting more letters. This time, the letters said, the landowners would have 30 days to sign the agreements or TransCanada would be “forced to enact the process of eminent domain.” That was 5 years ago. At that time, TransCanada didn’t have a permit to build a pipeline in the United States. They still don’t. At that time, lacking a federal permit, TransCanada did not have the authority to use eminent domain in Nebraska. Their empty threats were nothing more than bully tactics to intimidate landowners into doing their bidding.

In 2011, TransCanada got out its checkbook. In 3 months, TransCanada spent over half a million dollars on lobbying and legal fees trying to make sure our unicameral senators wouldn’t pass bills unfavorable to them.

In early 2012, the day after President Obama denied their permit for the original route of the Keystone Export pipeline, Nebraska State Senator Jim Smith proposed LB1161, which would take powers of pipeline route approval away from the Public Service Commission and give them unilaterally to the governor and the governor’s appointed DEQ. A couple of months later, in the face of much opposition from citizens and landowners, after many last-minute changes, our legislature passed LB1161 and our governor signed it into law.

Immediately, landowners sued the state over the passage of the law. In 2014 the law was ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge, and since then, every single judge that has cast a vote on the law’s constitutionality has voted in favor of landowners’ property rights. This did not stop TransCanada from initiating eminent domain proceedings earlier this year.

Again, landowners—not lawmakers—stood up and fought for their rights.

Most recently, in Holt and York Counties, judges granted a temporary injunction against TransCanada’s condemnation proceedings. While TransCanada has tried to play this to their favor in the media and make it look like a voluntary move on their part, TransCanada’s hand was forced by the action of landowners who worked together, stood up for their rights, and won.

We are here today to support the passage of LB473, which would undo LB1161 and protect the property rights of Nebraskans against what amounts to a corporate land-grab. Time and again it has been citizens, farmers, ranchers, and tribes who have taken action and fought for their rights, even after our elected officials have turned their backs on us. We thank Senator Chambers for proposing this bill, and we call on other members of the legislature to stand with farmers and ranchers, to protect property rights, to pass this common-sense law and put a stop to the blatant abuse of power and misuse of our legislative system that has been going on far too long.”

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