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A Texas Landowner's Quest to Stop the Keystone Pipeline Has Been Killed by the Courts

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The legal fight aimed at halting the advance of the Keystone pipeline through Texas was cut off at the knees on Tuesday. A state appeals court in Texarkana threw out Lamar County landowner Julia Trigg Crawford's lawsuit against TransCanada, rejecting arguments that Keystone can't condemn land because it's an interstate pipeline.

A Beaumont landowner making a nearly identical case before a separate appeals court saw his case dismissed in May. Crawford said in a statement that she intends to take the case to the Texas Supreme Court. So far, the courts haven't been receptive to arguments that the Keystone isn't a common carrier, or open for hire -- the qualification a pipeline builder needs to have before it can seize property. The Keystone -- a 2,100-mile line intended to connect Canada's oil-sand mines with the Texas gulf -- the court noted, will carry oil from third-party shippers whom it has no affiliation with.

Justice Bailey C. Moseley scoffed at the idea that the legislature intended to prevent interstate pipelines from claiming common-carrier status and condemning land. And he scolded what he characterized as a "lack of due diligence" on the part of Crawford and her attorneys. Her new attorneys argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to grant a continuance to allow them to investigate the case further. Her previous attorneys, despite having nearly a year to complete discovery, they complained, hadn't adequately prepared the case for trial.

"It was all just ... work on settlement, to get the largest settlement possible, to coerce his client into taking the settlement so this would never go to trial," her attorneys said in court.

But Bailey was apparently unsympathetic, noting they'd been granted continuance after continuance.

Crawford says she hopes Texas' high court will see her case with fresh eyes, noting its decision to strip the common carrier status of a South Texas pipeline carrying carbon dioxide. In that case, however, the pipeline operator was using the gas to stimulate old oil wells, and had no evidence of potential customers who were unaffiliated with the company -- evidence Keystone already has.

Crawford clearly doesn't plan on leaving it to the Texas Supreme Court alone. "In addition to the appeal, our next steps will focus on asking our legislators and fellow citizens to hold public hearings on eminent domain and expose the risks these pipelines pose to those like us living along the routes," she said. "Together we will ask our officials to change the laws that have so far left hundreds of Texans with no other recourse than to go to the courthouse as we have done. Our case is emblematic of those American landowners whose constitutional assurances have been trampled and we will continue to stand up for our rights."

If she can bring about change in a state notoriously sympathetic to the production and movement of oil, it'll come too late. The southern leg through Texas is all but complete.

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