Commentary

Property rights crusaders nowhere to be found in Atlantic Coast Pipeline controversy

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That faint echo you hear of of crickets chirping is the sound emanating from the offices of North Carolina’s conservative think tanks on the subject of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ACP is one of the most important environmental and economic development stories in North Carolina right now and has been for some time.

Energy companies and economic development interests are pushing hard for the pipeline and have even gone so far in recent months as to flood the radio airwaves with ads promoting the possible arrival of the pipeline as a giant economic boon to the eastern part of the state. Meanwhile, many environmental and community-based activists have been pushing just as hard against the pipeline based on their deep concerns about what it will do to our air, water, land and vulnerable species.

Interestingly, one other major issue related to the ACP that one would think would be right up the alley of groups like the John Locke Foundation, the Civitas Institute and American for Prosperity is that of property rights. As Lisa Sorg of Policy Watch reported yesterday, pipeline owners have taken the extraordinary action of bringing federal lawsuits against property owners in the path of the pipeline in an effort to get them to surrender control of their land ASAP. The companies are even trying to make use of the legal tool of “quick take” — a tactic that allows the pipeline owners to gain control of the property even before they’ve paid the owners.

For years, the conservative groups listed above have railed against the use of “eminent domain” — a procedure whereby government can “condemn” private property and convert it to public use. This position comports with the view so long espoused by these groups that property rights are close to sacrosanct — even when retention by a private owner may impede a project designed for the common good.

Interestingly, however, this deep-seated position has suddenly gone missing in action of late when it comes to the ACP. A search of the websites of Locke, Civitas and AFP not only turns up no mention of concerns about property seizures by pipeline owners, it turns up nary a mention of the pipeline at all.

How can this be? How could longtime, passionate defenders of property rights not even notice that a giant organization is gobbling up the land of small property owners against their will?

One possible explanation that leaps to mind, of course, is that the ACP is about transporting natural gas — a fossil fuel of the kind produced by Koch Industries and other businesses from whom the right-wing groups have long enjoyed financial backing. Another is simply that the conservative groups love fossil fuels and anything associate with them. Judging by the relentless attacks these groups tend to voice against renewable and sustainable energy, this also seems a reasonable conclusion.

Whatever the explanation, it would be nice of the right-wing groups would at least proffer some kind of plausible explanation that passes the laugh test. We’ll be listening.

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