On Friday, Judge Bill Harris of Lamar County heard arguments in a pre-trial hearing about the Keystone XL pipline’s use of eminent domain in North Texas. On one side of the court was Julia Trigg Crawford and her attorney. Crawford owns a farm north of Paris, and the pipeline would cross a portion of her land.
On the other side of the room? A team of lawyers and representatives for TransCanada, the company behind the controversial pipeline, all dressed in black, according to Crawford. “It would make Johnny Cash proud,” she says.
Crawford is one of the last holdouts among some 850 Texas landowners who signed agreements with the company to allow the pipeline on their land. During the negotiations with landowners, the company filed over a hundred eminent domain claims in Texas, pressuring some landowners to sign easements.
In a packed courtroom, Judge Harris heard six hours of arguments from both sides.
The case centers on the question of whether or not TransCanada qualifies as a “common carrier.” In other words, whether or not it can justify using eminent domain because it is a project that’s for the public good. TransCanada says it’s a common carrier because the oil passing through its pipeline will ultimately be used by the public, and that it will make its pipeline available to other companies to use as well.
Crawford disagrees, and her attorney is using a landmark unanimous Texas Supreme Court decision in her arguments. That case, known as Denbury Green, ruled that the burden is on the pipeline company to prove that the pipeline is for the common good.
“If the judge rules in our favor, and finds even one element that they’re not a common carrier, TransCanada will have to appeal,” Crawford says. “And depending on what he says if he rules against us, we’ll have an opportunity to appeal.”
A decision could come as early as this week, or the judge could decide to take it to a trial, currently scheduled for September 4.
And construction on the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries on the Gulf Coast has already begun, and may soon start on Crawford’s land. On Friday, the judge gave TransCanada “writ of possesion.” That means TransCanada can begin trenching on Crawford’s property.
You can learn more about the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas in our earlier reporting series, All Down the Line: The Economic and Environmental Impact of Keystone XL.