First, a bit about my background. I served for 14 years as a state lawmaker, then ran for Governor and Congress. In 2014, I organized the Great March for Climate Action and walked 3,000 miles across America. Then I walked across Iowa following the pipeline route and was arrested at the Governor’s office because he wouldn’t hear the concerns of landowners I’d met along the way. In one of life’s interesting ironies, I spent that night in a cell with a pipeline fitter. Nice guy.
I’ve been a climate activist since 2007, and an eminent domain activist since 1998. As a lawmaker, I floor managed an eminent domain bill in 2000, which was very unusual, because Democrats in a Republican House almost never got to floor manage bills.
In 2006, the very last vote I took as a lawmaker was to override the Governor’s veto of our Kelo legislation. It was a good bill, and still very relevant to the eminent domain pipeline battle we now find ourselves fighting in Iowa.
At the grassroots level, prior to fighting the Bakken Pipeline, I was involved in at least three dozen eminent domain battles across Iowa, including stopping ill-conceived lakes, regional airports, malls and more. We won at most of those battles.
I should point out, too that Iowa has a long, rich history of rural landowners fighting the abuse of eminent domain, including Jesse James and his battle against the railroad robber barons. You probably think of Jesse James as an outlaw. We see him as a hero, and still celebrate him every year with a festival in his honor in a town about 50 miles west of Des Moines. So, the polling in Iowa shows that 47% support the pipeline — down from 57% last year, so we’re making progress. But the real tell-tale number is this: 74% oppose eminent domain for an oil pipeline.
Even though Iowa has a strong law opposing the use of eminent domain for private purposes, thanks to our 2006 Kelo legislation, Energy Transfer Partners has thrown its political and financial power around to an extent where it’s been a very hard-fought battle.
This Bakken Pipeline has been greased with a ton of oil money. Kelcy Warren, the CEO of ETP, is a wealthy, clever and unscrupulous man, with political power and the power of money. Threw one means or another, he has bought off Rick Perry, Terry Branstad, the Republican leadership of the Iowa Senate and House, several key Democratic lawmakers, Iowa labor unions and the Iowa Farm Bureau. And of course, he has thrown lots of money at landowners to buy them off too.
I think all of us here understand that reining in the abuse of eminent domain is key to stopping pipelines. But if logically understand the strategic benefit but don’t feel it in your heart, if it’s a merely a ploy or a talking point, it’s not going to work.
If we’re going to argue in defense of landowners threatened with eminent domain and a pipeline, you need to feel it passionately. You need to connect on a very personal level with the landowners affected. We can acquire that passion, that empathy, but it takes time and effort. It takes getting to know the people who sit in the crosshairs of a pipeline company, walking in their work boots or in their moccasins.
I discovered there was no better way to get to know the farmers and landowners targeted with the Bakken Pipeline than by walking the 400-mile route of the pipeline. I’ll share some of their stories with you. (Visit http://fallonforum.com/iowa-pipeline-walk-day-one-near-donnellson/, then scroll forward.)
Construction has started in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. So far, we’ve held them at bay in Iowa. But we’re down to the wire, and we need help. And we need it now. And if we get help now, we still have a fighting chance to stop the Bakken Pipeline.
Here are three tools we still have, and perhaps you can help with one or more of them:
There are court battles that are still live rounds. One is a case on eminent domain that will go to the Iowa Supreme Court involving 10 landowners — but the Judge is unlikely to offer an injunction. So we could win that case in a year or two, but meanwhile, a pipeline gets built.
At the district court level, just yesterday, we lost a challenge on eminent domain in NW Iowa. The attorney in that case, John Murray, also a landowner, wants to appeal the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. But landowners have already spent over $100,000 on legal fees. John has done most of his work pro-bono, but landowners need another $25,000 to be able to take the case to the Iowa Supreme Court, where we anticipate a more favorable ruling.
2. We also have the Army Corps of Engineers. Thanks to the actions of the tribes and landowners, the profile of the pipeline has been raised, and the Corps has switched from rubber stamping ETP’s permit to slowing it down, taking seriously their charge to protect our water resources.
3. Finally, we have the threat of civil disobedience. In a little over a week, 400 people have signed Bold Iowa’s Pledge of Resistance. But we need thousands to sign, as was the case with Keystone. Direct action by hundreds or even thousands of people, led by farmers, landowners and the tribes, would get President Obama’s attention, and the attention of the Army Corps of Engineers.
I want to add two more thoughts. Donald Trump did not win the Republican Caucus in Iowa this year. Ted Cruz won, and Trump tied with Rubio for delegates. Rubio. Remember him? He’s a Senator, I think. Ted Cruz is bad on ethanol, and being pro-ethanol is pretty much a litmus test for political candidates in Iowa. Yet, even more important to Iowans than ethanol is the abuse of eminent domain. And in Iowa, Trump was hurt by his stand on eminent domain. In the general election, Donald Trump can be beat on eminent domain in swing states like Iowa.
And I’ll just say this: If Donald Trump becomes President, I truly fear that we could have Fascism in America by 2020. Trump must be stopped. And if his opponent, whoever that might be, were to come out strongly against eminent domain for private gain and pipelines, that’s a winning campaign message.
Finally, and even more broadly, eminent domain is not simply a fight about pipelines, water quality and climate change. It’s a fight that is at the very heart of our identity as Americans. This is about freedom. This is about liberty. This is about the right of people to happiness and prosperity from the responsible use of their land, their property, without fear of some big, powerful corporation, working hand-in-hand with corrupt government officials, to take what is not theirs for a purpose that is only about satisfying their lust for money and power.