Eminent domain seems unfair and un-American. Particularly, when called upon by a Canadian multi-national oil company to wrestle a rag tag group of ranchers for the last bit of right-of-way for its heinous oil snake pipeline.

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According to The Guardian, by law, TransCanada can use the courts to force Nebraska landowners to sell access to their land. Company officials say they still need to acquire 12% of the total land easements from owners who have not yet reached a deal. Some holdouts have said they will not negotiate no matter how much TransCanada offers.

In an unexpected twist, Nebraska state senator, Ernie Chambers introduced a bill on Tuesday that would repeal the pipeline-siting law and bring the project “to a virtual standstill”.

Chambers is the only African-American serving in the Nebraska state Senate. He’s also famously contentious. Frequently employing legislative rules and filibusters to block proposals, his legislative opposition has caused friction with some of his colleagues in the Legislature.

“The pipeline is like King Kong, and the people and farms are like ants and grasshoppers,” Chambers said. “If they get in the way, they will be crushed with no redress.”

“The Great Plains has a rich history of this sort of rabble-rousing individual,” says Gary Moulton, professor emeritus of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Chambers’ detractors should take heed of the state’s populist legacy, he says, one that includes William Jennings Bryan and other advocates for the ignored and voiceless. “Ernie comes out of the ’60s, but if you take a step back you can see that it’s another aspect in the same populist vein,” Moulton says.

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Let’s hope Chambers’ penchant for obstructionism pays off for the ranchers in the way of this pipeline. The concept of eminent domain makes sense on paper. Private property owners must give up their rights for the good of the larger community. The problem here is the Keystone pipeline is not clearly a seen as a benefit to the community or to the country. In fact, it’s not hard to see the project as the snake it is, carrying 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day through sensitive Ogallala Aquifer-fed habitat.

Everyone knows some of this 800,000 barrels of crude is going to leak into the sandy soil and infect the life-sustaining water underneath. It’s a matter of when, not if.

Could there be armed conflict and sabotage on the horizon? Most Nebraskans are prudent people. At the same time, I’ve always thought of my home state as a Midwestern version of New Hampshire. “Live free or die” is an expression of the granite state’s native extremism. There’s no such expression in Nebraska, but there is a pervasive live-and-let-live/don’t tread on me mentality.

Terms like “patriot” get bandied about in debates like this. The right wing wants to own the term patriot. But who are the patriots in this conflict? Are the politicians with oil money stuffed in their suit pockets patriots? Or are the people of Nebraska and America who say no to another short-sighted fossil fuels scheme that creates virtually no local jobs patriots?

The odd thing is many of the people in rural Nebraska fighting for their land might present as conservatives, but they’re now allied with populists Ernie Chambers and Barack Obama and a bunch of leftist environmentalists.

Political terminology and ideology doesn’t mean much at a time of crisis. It’s all so much simpler than that. “I’m an American, this is my land, and you’re not going to destroy it,” is about all there is to it.

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Nebraska, Politics, The Environment