The Green Costs of Kelo Revisited

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In 2006, Ilya Somin and I co-authored “The Green Costs of Kelo: Economic Development Takings and Environmental Protection,” in which we argued that allowing the use of eminent domain for economic development was bad for environmental conservation.  Environmentalist advocates responded with disbelief.  The Community Rights Counsel (the precursor to the Constitutional Accountability Center) went so far as to label our paper the “outrage of the month” and labeled our argument “a skewed view from the libertarian fringe.”   Six years later, however, it appears some environmentalist advocates are coming around to our point of view.

Yesterday, E&E News reported (subscription required) that several major environmental groups are looking to block the use of eminent domain for the construction of portions of the Keystone XL pipeline that are still slated for construction.  In particular, they plan to argue that the use of eminent domain for the pipeline will violate state rules that preclude eminent domain’s use for private economic development.

In a conference call with reporters today, representatives of four environmental organizations — Bold Nebraska, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and the Sierra Club — said they believe they have a strong legal case against the company on eminent domain issues. The company is seeking to use condemnation power against a north Texas farmer.

The groups’ main argument is that, as a nonpublic entity looking to build a project for profit, TransCanada does not qualify for eminent domain power in most states.

Whatever the merits of the pipeline, it appears that some environmentalists are beginning to recognize that allowing the government to seize private property for the purpose of encouraging private economic development an facilitate environmentally undesirable projects. Indeed, insofar as such efforts are successful at promoting economic growth, the use of eminent domain for economic development necessarily results in more development than would have occurred absent its use. In other words, the use of eminent domain for economic development results in more environmental harm than if the market were left alone. Further, as we noted in our paper, limiting the ability of governments to use eminent domain for economic development, whether through the Constitution or legislative reform, does not preclude most environmentally beneficial uses of eminent domain, such as the eradication of blight or the provision of public goods.

I’m not sure whether any of the environmentalist groups involved in this dispute acknowledge our work, but it’s nice to see them come around to our way of thinking, even if only on this one issue.

Originally posted at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Jonathan Adler is Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law & Regulation at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He is a prolific scholar, publishing on such topics as regulatory takings, water marketing, fisheries management, and the judicial limits of federal environmental regulation. He is the author,...
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