Sunday, December 8, 2013

Eminent Domain Reform in Texas



While serving as mayor of DISH, many of my citizens had to deal with natural gas pipeline companies, and the threat of eminent domain.  Maybe I was na├»ve, but it was shocking for me to realize that private, for profit companies could acquire land through eminent domain, especially in a state like Texas that is supposed to support private property rights.  It seemed un-American to me to see private property transferred from one private entity to another to merely benefit shareholders, not the public in general.  It also answered the question as to why there were so many pipelines in the area.  Each company put in a pipeline in speculating that it would be needed someday, using the threat of eminent domain to secure the easement.  These lines were not truly a public need, and most of them are not at capacity, so why would they steal private property from hardworking, taxpaying Texans?  Because the state of Texas said they could, and there is not much that a common person can do about it.  

There is a case where a Texas farmer is fighting Trans-Canada and the southern leg of the Keystone XL, and the world has supported her, check out http://www.standtallwithjulia.com/.

In Texas “common carrier” pipeline companies have the power of eminent domain as per Chapter 111 of the Texas Natural Resource Code.  A common carrier must provide services to the public for hire.  So in laymen’s terms they must make their services available to the general public, and not just transport the product (oil, natural gas, etc.) for themselves.  However, there is no checks and balances to ensure that these companies are actually doing that.  All they have to do is to check a box on a T-4 form, which is the application to operate a pipeline in Texas.  The only way to challenge the common carrier status is through the court system, which is way too expensive for the average Texan.  Once the company takes your land through eminent domain, they do not have to inform you of what is being transported through your property, and you may be held liable if there is a leak (read the fine print).  So much for Texas being a private property rights state.  The Texas legislate had an opportunity to correct this problem last legislative session, but they failed to take any action.  

Many of the Texas politicians, such as current Commissioner of the Texas Railroad Commission and candidate for Texas Attorney General Barry Smitherman, believes that as long as you are paid a “fair price”, then it is acceptable for a private company to steal your property.  Unfortunately, most Texas politicians agree with Commissioner Smitherman.  Under that theory, you can own and peacefully enjoy property in Texas, as long as someone with more money doesn’t want it.  It does not matter if you have made good decisions, paid your property off early, have a plan to develop the property into something meaningful with the land, it doesn’t even matter if it has been in your family for generations, if they want, then they will get it.  

Once I began doing research, it seemed like everyone that could afford a lobbyist, had managed to get the power of eminent domain.  If they couldn’t get it outright, then a government entity would take the land through eminent domain and then just give it the private entity that wanted it.  There are several examples of this here in Texas and you don’t have to leave the Dallas – Fort Worth area to find it.  Several years ago Hurst, TX took 127 homes to expand a shopping mall, and Arlington, TX just used the power a few years ago for Cowboys Stadium.  Not that I am not a Cowboy’s fan, but I can’t condone Jerry Jones stealing a senior citizen’s property to make his profits, that is un-American and un-constitutional, or is it?

In 2005, there was a monumental ruling by the United States Supreme Court that stated that economic development was a legitimate public use; the case was Kelo vs. the City of New London, CT.  Ms. Kelo’s property was being taken in support of a Pfizer research facility.  There is a book called Little Pink House that tells the story of this monumental case.  Unfortunately, after spending hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars on the project, Pfizer pulled out and now the land where the little pink house once stood is a vacant lot, most recently used as a dump for debris from hurricane Sandy.  So what our Supreme Court basically said, was that no matter how good a citizen you are, no matter what good decisions you have made in your life, you can own peacefully enjoy property in America, as long as someone with more money doesn’t want it.  Hopefully, you are seeing the trend by now.  

There was significant backlash on the Supreme Court Justices for this decision.  One of the justices had an attempt to take their childhood home through eminent domain, and there was congressional hearings on the subject.  There was so much backlash, that it is doubtful that the Supreme Court will ever take on an eminent domain case again.  Although, I am not a constitutional scholar, it is my understanding, that the constitution was drafted to prevent blatant abuses of our personal rights such as this, but currently the document is only used when it is convenient, and certainly does not seem apply to us peasants.  

Neither the US Constitution nor the Texas Constitution gives the power of eminent domain to specific entities, but rather infer that this power can be used only for public use.  However, the definition of public use has been perverted by the state legislature and the courts, to mean whatever their donors say is a public use.  Most people do not like the idea of having the land that they worked hard for taken for any purpose, but most people are understanding when it is for a true public use, and there is not better options available.  However, when their land is taken for a shopping mall, pipeline, or football stadium that benefits private entities, most do not agree that this is a public use. 

Since the Kelo vs. New London, CT decision, most states have taken some sort of action, however; only a few states did anything meaningful.  Texas had a dog and pony show that resulted in a constitutional amendment.  This amendment, did inhibit the ability of government to take property and transfer to private entities in most cases, but did nothing to deter the many private entities that have the power of eminent domain in Texas from abusing it.  

Texas has done away with some provisions for using eminent domain, and it is in the Texas Constitution that this power is not to be used, except to remove “urban blight”.  Unfortunately, that one statement undoes everything else in the document.  Susette Kelo’s house was taken under the premise that it was “blighted”.  So you may think that “blighted” is some horrible eyesore, which everyone would agree needs to be demolished.  However, the definition of blighted is: “something that impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress and prosperity.  So I hate to break it to you, but everyone’s property is “blighted” to someone.  And if you think a good eminent domain lawyer couldn’t make an argument that your property is “blighted”, then frankly you are a fool.  

The Castle Coalition www.castlecoalition.org, was the group that helped defend Sussette Kelo, and they have ranked each state by property rights, and Texas is a disappointing 27th.  It is amazing that a state that touts itself as a “private property rights” state ranks in the lower half of all states.  Florida ranks number one in this ranking. Florida requires the condemning authority to pay the legal fees of the person having their land condemned.  They also do not allow property to be taken for being “blighted”.  

So why not follow the lead of the states that protect private property rights?  That real solution is that we need to demand that there be meaningful eminent domain reform in Texas.  I have put together a list of ordinances and resolutions that a municipality can adopt at the local level.  These range from resolutions that simply declare that a municipal government does not agree with the taking of private property for economic development, to an ordinance that prevents the municipal government from taking property and turning it over to a private entity for economic development.  If you have municipal government that truly supports the protection of private property, this language could be put into the city charter, to let everyone know that they can move to this community and know that their property rights will be protected.  Links to these documents are below:


At the state level, there needs to be real, meaningful eminent domain reform.  Not the eyewash and dog and pony show that we see every legislative session.  If you ask any Texas politician if they support private property rights, they will tell you “yes”.  Every one of them will point to some meaningless legislation that they supported to protect private property rights.  Unfortunately, most of them are either too dumb to know what real private property protections are, or they think that you are.  Every legislative session the Texas Legislature makes a public statement that protecting private property rights is their highest priority, then they pass legislation that erodes private property.  Again, they are either too dumb to know what property rights protections are, or they think you are.  

The solution at the state level is to follow the lead of states that truly support private property rights.  There is no reason why Texans should accept being in the bottom half of property rights protection in the US.  We need to demand reform, and there should be no state that has stronger property rights protections than Texas.  We need adopt the Florida statute at a minimum, and require condemning authorities to pay legal fees.  I know people who spent so much money on attorneys that they did not get any meaningful benefit of trying to fight eminent domain.  Therefore we need to give some balance of power to the property owners.  If we are going to ignore the constitution, at least give someone the opportunity to have a fair fight.  Also, if the condemning authority had to pay legal fees, they would not want a protracted court battle.  Therefore, they would no longer treat property owners like criminals on their own land, but rather would be forced to truly negotiate.  They are currently supposed to participate in fair negotiations, but there is no such thing when an entity has the power of eminent domain to hold over your head.  However, this change would certainly motivate the condemning authority to negotiate.

Below is a link to the Florida Statute that deals with eminent domain:


If you agree that you should be able to own and peacefully enjoy your property, I would encourage you to look at some of the ideas that I have shared, and take these to your local and state officials whatever state you live in and demand eminent domain reform.  If you live in Texas and your officials claim that they have been fighting for your private property rights, they are likely lying to you, and think you are too dumb to realize it, so vote their ass out and get a new one.  I know that we have a special affection for “our” elected officials, and think that “our” officials are not the problem, but if they’re not part of the solution, they are part of the problem and it’s time for change.  And don’t give me any of that crap about democrats vs. republicans, they are both pissing all over our rights, and if they are not working for you, then they are working against you, and it’s time throw their ass out; make em get a real job like the rest of us.  

You can contact me anytime for more information. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Imagine If There Were A Town In The USA Where You Couldn't Get Any Water. You Can Stop Imagining.

This is an interesting story about honest hard working Texans, wondering what those elected to prevent this are doing about.  Whether the water is poisoned or depleted, but when it's gone it's gone.


Imagine If There Were A Town In The USA Where You Couldn't Get Any Water. You Can Stop Imagining.

Independent Texans First Convention Ever – Sept. 21st! | Independent Texans

I hope to see you at the first Independent Texans convention on September 21, 2013 in Austin, TX, where I will be talking about something near and dear to my heart, Eminent Domain.  See link below.



Independent Texans First Convention Ever – Sept. 21st! | Independent Texans

Monday, August 19, 2013

More Corruption by Texas Politicians

Here the Texas politicians are using their power to get admission into State Universities and student loan fraud.



More Texas corruption

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's Time For Congress To Actively Condemn Eminent Domain Abuses - Forbes

This is a good article that illustrates the importance of needing legislation to protect some of our fundamental rights.  We should be able to purchase property knowing that we can raise our families and live there as long as we want, without fear of being run out of our homes by corporate greed or corrupt politicians.  I served 6 years as an elected official, and in my view if an elected official has allowed eminent domain that is not truly for public use , then they are corrupt...period.  However, there will not be changes to this policy unless we stop letting corrupt politicians buy their seats through reelection and hold them accountable for their actions.  The corrupt politicians will never implement term limits on their own, that is left up to us.  If we do not, then we are choosing our fate, and we are leaving a very sad world to our children.

It's Time For Congress To Actively Condemn Eminent Domain Abuses - Forbes

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Texan tragedy: ample oil, no water | Environment | The Guardian

This is something that we must think about moving forward.  If there is not water, there is no food, no vegetation and subsequently no life.  How much will we have to pay for water in the future?



A Texan tragedy: ample oil, no water | Environment | The Guardian

It Sucks To Be The Example

While boarding my flight at DFW to the Gasland 2 premiere in New York City, I can not help but reflect on the last eight years, and how it came to be that I would a part of a film that would make such a huge impact around the world.  How is that a small town boy from Oklahoma, a welder's son, would be invited to a movie premiere in the big apple?

I reflect further back to my roots of growing up in a small Oklahoma oil boom town, and the strange journey that my life has taken after graduating from the Oilton, OK High School.  My mind drifts back to my childhood and helping my father, who would work on the oil well pump jacks for extra money, became some of my earliest memories.  How did  I go from growing up in an oil field to becoming one of the oil and gas industry's largest critics?

Because of my upbringing, I did not find it odd to move into an area, where there was mineral exploration going on, surely this would be just like the area that I grew up in.  The wells would absolutely not be placed near people's homes, nor would there be drilling in urban areas.  However, I would soon learn that this was nothing like the area that I grew up in.  I would soon learn of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which has unlocked previously unreachable minerals.  

After 2005 the drilling activity in our area exploded, there were drilling rigs everywhere,  pipelines snaked their way through corn fields and cow pastures.  It was at this time when I was sworn in as a Town Commissioner for the small town of Clark, TX.  Over the next two years, the name of the town was changed to DISH, in exchange for 10 years of free dish network.  We also put in one of the strictest and most comprehensive drilling ordinances of any town in the Barnett Shale.  It also became more and more apparent that I was meant to become mayor, and lead this small community.  In May of 2007, I was sworn in as the third mayor of DISH, TX.

It was at this time that a large industrial complex was being constructed just beyond our southern border.  We would soon come to learn that this would be a bank of several natural gas compressors, and processing facility.  Although the industry down played this facility, it became apparent that we would soon have something similar to a refinery in our back yard.  However, being a life long conservative republican, it was difficult to speak out about the natural gas industry.  However, over the next few years, that view would change considerably.  

As the facility grew, the noise got louder and the odors got stronger.  There were also several events that led to massive releases of natural gas.  When we complained to the industry, they simply said that this was a safety feature, and everything worked as designed.  They also stated that natural gas is lighter than air, and everything went straight to the moon.  At this point, I was wondering if it was this bad and things were working as designed, what would happen if it didn't?

Growing up in Oklahoma, left me with a certain views and opinion that were impressed upon me by my parents.  One thing that I was never very good at, was dealing with a bully, and I was figuring out real quick, that the oil and gas industry played the bully card real well.  However, the community had put their faith in me to protect them from this, and it was my intention to not let them down.  Therefore, I began to get more aggressive, when dealing with the industry.   

Frankly, if the oil and gas industry had been half as responsible as they portray themselves in the industry commercials, most folks would have never heard of DISH, TX or me for that matter, I certainly would not have been a part of Gasland.  You might say that I was forced into being a critic of this industry.  However, as the facility continued to grow against our will, the side effects continued to get worse.  

There was a moment when the impact of what we were going through all started come together.  We were watching the acclaimed documentary Split Estate, when we had that sobering moment.  The theme of nosebleeds began to come up again and again.  Unfortunately, we had noticed our two young boys had been having increasing nosebleeds.  Not the kind that rough and tumble boys get when they are wrestling, but these nosebleeds would happen while they were sleeping, also on nights when the odor was the strongest.  

We knew at this point that something had to be done to protect our children, after a week in May of 2010 and nosebleeds by one of the boys basically every night, we made the decision to move.  To move away from the only home my children knew, away from our church and school, this is certainly one of the toughest decision I have ever had to make, now I am traveling to see one of the worst things that me and my family have had to go through played out on the big screen, it sucks to be the example.    

After moving it did not take us long to realize that we had made the right choice, the boys nosebleeds stopped immediately, and my oldest son's asthma improved immediately.  I often wish none of this would have happened, but believe that we are all put into positions for a reason, and therefore, I am committed to prevent what happened to my family from happening to others.  I lost my dream home, but will continue to fight and help others in similar situations.  As I look into the eyes of my seven month old daughter, I know we can not stop.  Please join me in the fight, together we can make a difference.  

My Testimony in the 2013 Legislature Before The Energy Resources Committee in Opposition to House Bill 2828

Notes for HB2828 Pipeline Preemption

My name is Calvin Tillman and I live in Aubrey, TX.  However, for the purpose of HB 2828, I am here on behalf of the small community of DISH, TX, where I serve as an unpaid municipal consultant and citizen's advocate.  The town of DISH has some of the greatest and earliest impacts from the natural gas boom in the Barnett Shale, more specifically the natural gas pipeline industry.  I served three terms in the local government of DISH and we are adamantly opposed to this bill.  

This bill has been characterized as a bill to prevent municipalities from implementing different safety regulations on pipeline companies.  The pipeline industry does not want to be faced with different safety rules in each municipality that they do business in.  Different than what state and federal regulations currently require.  This is understandable.

However, currently municipalities are preempted by state and federal law, and have been for many decades from implementing ANY safety standards on pipeline companies.  It short municipalities, are and have been for many years restricted from the ability to regulate safety on pipelines in any manner. This has been held up in numerous court cases, most recently in the case of The City of Grand Prairie vs Texas Midstream Gas, which was the pipeline branch of Chesapeake Energy.  Therefore, this bill has nothing to do with municipalities implementing different safety standards.  

This bill could and likely will be interpreted to preempt all municipal ordinances including noise abatement for compressors engines, nuisance ordinances, and aesthetic requirements for above ground appurtenances.  These simple requirements are   meant to prevent property devaluation and preserve quality of life.   

Imagine spending your life savings on a piece of property and building your dream home.  Now imagine an industry moving a facility in next door that emits loud noises and horrible odors.  Noises and odors so bad that you are unable to enjoy  going outside and enjoying the property which you have spent your life savings on.   How would you like that?  If you pass this bill, you will be taking away a municipality's ability to prevent it.
 
I am the first to say that the proper place for this kind of a discussion is inside of the working group that was put together a few years ago to develop the best practices, not inside of a hearing room at the Texas Legislature.  This group worked very hard to prevent the need for further regulations.  

If this bill were to pass and the ability of a municipality to have any input on pipelines would be taken away completely, you will essentially take away a municipality's ability to plan for the future.  This will destroy the municipality's ability to implement a comprehensive plan, or zoning for that matter.  For example, a small community may  have a plan in place to develop a certain area as a business district, and a pipeline company decides that they need a compressor station or pipeline in that area, they are able to condemn the property against the will of the property owner, and without municipal input they can essentially destroy the municipality's ability to grow.  Completely destroying the possiblity for a future business district.  

Although the substitute does allow for the municipality to charge a fee for the crossing of a municipal right of way, it is unclear if a municipality will have any input on where the pipeline crosses, or how the municipality's property will be used.  

The substitute bill does allow for the mapping and inventorying which is critical to the day to day operations of a municipality and currently one of the few things that municipalities can currently require.  

Municipalities and pipeline companies need to be forced to negotiate matters such as this, however, this bill would give an unreasonable amount of authority to an industry that has a history of not using it's authority well.  This bill is also is an encroachment on a municipality's ability to control it's own future.  

For communities like DISH, TX the ability to grow will be taken out of of the municipality's hand and given to the hands of a bureaucrat at the Railroad Commission, and could essentially turn many small communities into heavy industrial areas.  Which will destroy property values and prevent residents from peacefully enjoying the property which they likely spent their life savings to buy.

Having served as a small town mayor and town commissioner, it is clear that a small local government is the purest form of a democracy.  My citizens were not a vote or a number, they were my friend and neighbors.  I met them at the grocery store and at our kids tee-ball games.  They helped me build my barn, and their children played or in some cases babysit my children.  They were friends, neighbors and extended family.  I urge you to  leave local officials some authority to protect their citizens, don't take it all away.

In closing I will read a comment from the current mayor of DISH, TX, Bill Sciscoe that I just received via text message - 

We R on the short lisr of the filthist places on earth because of the N. Gas industry. We R almost defenseless now because of legislation just like this.  

Our citizens deserve better than this from our legislators. 

I want to thank the chairman and committee for allowing me to speak on behalf of the great small, resilient community of DISH, TX.   

Two Children Given Lifelong Ban on Ever Talking About Fracking by Range Resources (RRC)

The folks at Range Resources (RRC) are the epitome of the evil company that abuses their power and authority.  The Range Resources Shareholder's should be ashamed of what is going on their and demand immediate action.
Two Children Given Lifelong Ban on Ever Talking About Fracking

My Testimony at the Texas Energy Resources Committee Supporting Surface Owner Protection and Texas House Bill 3600

HB 3600

Hello thank you Mr. Chair and committee members for allowing my testimony,  I am Calvin Tillman from Aubrey, TX and I am here representing myself to support HB 3600.  

Whenever a drilling rig shows up in someone's backyard, the affected landowners start searching on the internet and they usually find a handful of people including myself.  So I have heard stories from surface owners all over this state, and frankly it is time for us to do something about protecting the surface owners.  

Through personal interactions, and being intimately involved in the interactions of others, I must agree with Representative Wu's assessment that you should consider getting an attorney anytime the oil and gas industry shows up at your door.  However, that is not how people do business in rural Texas.  Also, the litigation process is not an easy process for a property owner to go through.

Imagine working hard your entire life to buy your dream home, a home and 10 acres that you build into your dreams, you get a horse for your children to the ride.   When you close on the property you already have plans to build a barn for these horses, and seed the front pasture for them to graze, as well as building a pipe and cable fence to keep the horses in.  

You question you realtor at closing about a document that you are asked to sign.  It is a one page document that has you simply acknowledge that you do not own the minerals for the property that you are purchasing.  Your realtor explains that if you are digging in your yard and hit oil - the oil is somebody else's.  

You continue living the American Dream for the next several years.  You have performed the improvements you had planned when purchasing the property, and now this is officially your dream home.   

Then one day whaile you were traveling for work, and shortly after your wife leaves for work,  without notice a natural gas drilling company comes and cuts down your new pipe and cable fences and proceeds to bulldoze approximately three of your ten acres for a well pad site.  

When you provide the Forman your displeasure with the process, the Forman on the site lets you know that it would be in your best interest to not speak with an attorney, cause they could really make it tough on you if you start causing problems.  They then threaten you with a restraining order that would prevent you from being able to use your own home.  But they brag about how nice they were, because after they cut your fence down they locked your horses in the barn.  

A drilling rig is set up to drill two natural gas wells on the massive pad site 300 feet from your back door.  You are curious why this company needs to put this well 300 feet from your back door, when there are tens of thousands of acres of open land around you.  When you figure out the answer, you are disturbed, the reason that this company did this...is because they can.

Your deep republican roots, have you support the oil and gas industry, but what you have seen makes you question how your party could support what just happened to you.  You are military veteran, who faithfully served his country, you ask yourself if this is what you defended. 

You then think about think about the document at closing, wondering why your realtor did not describe this process to you when you asked about owning minerals.  If she had told what potentially could happen to you, you would have run.  

Whenever I tell this story, most people can not believe that this could not happen in America, and certainly not in a property rights state like Texas.  However, the scenario that I just described do not happen in some third world dictatorship, this happened right here in TX , and it happened in Representative Phil King's district.

There is actually a rule that requires for notification of the surface owner within 15 days after a permit is approved from a the Railroad Commission.  However, there is no penalty for not complying with this rule.  This is an example of when a law is not really a law.  

I know that the job this committee does is very important, and I know there is a variety of subjects that you deal with every session.  We have to start the discussion regarding surface owner protection in Texas.  There are several other mineral producing states that already have reasonable surface owner protection.  This has not stopped mineral exploration in these states.  

With Texas's vast mineral production history, we should not be catching up to other states on protecting honest hard working Texans, we should be leading.  If not now, when?

Thank you.