Kentucky's Rand Paul was one of only two Republicans in the Senate who voted to protect the property rights of those whose homes and farms lie in the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
Paul supports the crude-oil pipeline but saw that something bigger is at stake when private companies claim the power to seize property that is not theirs. Paul might have been playing to his Tea Party base, but his vote kept the faith with rural Kentuckians across the political spectrum.
Despite receiving pleas from rural Nebraskans, the other Kentuckian in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted against an amendment that would have blocked the use of eminent domain by TransCanada. The Canadian company wants to transport crude oil from Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.
The amendment's 43-54 defeat means TransCanada's claim to eminent domain will continue to be battled in state courts. In Nebraska, that could take years, which renders McConnell's push to get congressional approval for the pipeline rather meaningless.
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The Kentucky legislature, on the other hand, can do something very meaningful when it reconvenes next month by making it clear that the use of eminent domain in Kentucky is for public service only.
Specifically, the legislature should make clear that the builders of pipelines transporting natural gas liquids, the chemical byproducts of natural gas extraction, have no power of eminent domain — in contrast to pipelines carrying natural gas for distribution by public utilities.
The legislature also should put NGL pipelines under the same siting process as electrical infrastructure construction projects that are not part of a public utility.
In Nebraska, TransCanada is making landowners lucrative offers in hopes of avoiding condemnation fights, but a dedicated group of holdouts is determined to protect the rich land where they raise food for millions of people and the Ogallala aquifer, one of North America's great sources of fresh water.
An anti-pipeline group in Nebraska recently wrote to McConnell:
"While we understand the need for the federal government to discuss jobs, we also believe our property rights should not be traded away for an export pipeline that brings 35 jobs long-term to our country." (While Keystone would employ thousands of construction workers, its permanent workforce would be small.)
"Many of our farms and ranches individually employ and support more than 35 jobs in our towns. Collectively, the agriculture industry in Nebraska alone provides more than $21 billion in revenues. If you want to talk about supporting and creating jobs, then let's get to work on infrastructure for rural bridges and reliable rural broadband.
"P.S.: We sent an invitation to you back in November inviting you to visit with us on the actual route. We even said we could host a 'Bourbon Summit.' You never responded. The invitation is still open."