Our memories are rooted in the sanctuaries we create. Recollections of Thanksgiving and of Christmas past pale without home in the background; the past and home intertwine and mingle until they are nearly seamless. When I was young, my brothers and I would chase imaginary enemies through the pine groves near our Wisconsin house, watch my dad boil sap to make maple syrup and see the warm lights beckon through the dark winters from the end of the driveway. My youngest brother was born right after we moved into the house, and I saw my middle brother get married in the pine groves where I spent my youth.
Freeze these frames.
Now, enter Enbridge, a Canadian corporation and the world’s largest pipeline company. Through a perversion of eminent domain, Enbridge was granted permission to steal an additional 315-foot swath of my family’s land, in addition to the 80 feet it had already taken for other massive pipelines, decimating our old growth forest along with our property value. Two million barrels of oil a day currently flow underneath our land, more oil than the U.S. imports from the Middle East on an average day.
After the news about the pipeline expansion, my hands would not stop shaking for three days.
My family’s story offers a stark example of how unbridled corporate money and power can undermine our government, and how pipelines not only infringe upon the environment, but our basic American rights as well. Most people think that eminent domain can only be used for public purposes, such as building schools or roads, but because of a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2005 (Kelo v. New London), companies can now use eminent domain to seize land if they can demonstrate an overall economic gain. To further solidify their legal position in 2015, Enbridge lobbied the Wisconsin state legislatures to change state eminent domain laws to better fit its business model through the obscure Motion #999 process, a rule that is used to typically correct gross mathematical errors in the state budget. Under the careful supervision of Enbridge lobbyists and lawyers, Wisconsin legislatures conceded Enbridge the right to condemn and usurp private land for corporate economic development.
Enbridge’s greed not only threatens my family’s property rights, but also our property safety. Like most rural Americans, our only access to potable water is the small well on our property that taps into the shallow groundwater under our house. One small leak can contaminate all of our water. Enbridge has had 804 spills in the last 10 years, including the infamous Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan, the largest oil spill on American soil. Under current eminent domain practices and recent changes to Wisconsin law (lobbied for by Enbridge), they are also not fiscally liable, nor must they carry any insurance, for any spills that take place along their pipelines.
Proponents of pipelines argue that pipelines are a safer method of transporting oil and that pipelines create jobs. This argument is corporate doublespeak. Pipelines are constructed as a cost-saving measure for transporting oil. Pipelines do not provide long-term jobs — only short-term construction contracts. The long-term job growth estimate for the similar Keystone XL pipeline is only 35 jobs. But why should corporate profits even be a factor in these decisions? When did we decide to sacrifice freedom, liberty and autonomy for cash? I feel that most Americans would hold it a self-evident truth that a powerful foreign company should not be able to seize private American land for profit.
My family and I are not radical environmentalists. We know that many modern conveniences are only possible because of the energy petroleum provides. However, we also know that the oil that will run under my family’s land is from the Canadian tar sands, the least energy-efficient method of extracting petroleum and one that causes the most environmental carnage. Most of the oil is destined to be shipped overseas and is not used for domestic energy purposes. The profits from the sales will be sucked out of the country, and there will be minimal permanent job creation for Americans. Why should we shoulder all the risks while enjoying none of the fiscal rewards? We fight this land grab because not only are our civil liberties are being violated, but our land is as well.
Enbridge will not have to look hard for myself or my family. We, along with others threatened by Enbridge, have banded together to create 80Ft is Enough!, a grassroots organization against pipeline expansion. With our neighbors, we will not be intimidated into silence. We will fight them in the courts, in the legislature and on our property. We will protest to show that corporate power and money cannot violate our land, buy our complacency or negate our rights.
I am asking for the support of the other citizens of my state and of my country. This is not a case of Blue vs. Red. This is an issue of freedom vs. coercion, democracy vs. oligarchy. Multi-national companies are not afraid of the people and have subverted our political system for their economic gains. From insane increases in drug prices to targeting the vulnerable to thuggish plane removal practices, corporations in America have made it clear that they think they are in control. It is up to us as individuals to stand tall and make it clear that we will not accept a two-tiered system that favors the powerful and wealthy.
The day we decide to sacrifice the liberties and freedoms of the people for the economic enrichment of the few is the day reason has failed, and our democracy is diminished.
-Jackson Stone Borchardt MA ’18
Contact Jackson Stone Borchardt at jsbor ‘at’ stanford.edu.