Monday Roundup: Keystone Lawsuit

Landowner suits could be best hope for defeating Keystone XL • Nominate rural journalists for national award • New Futures director in Nebraska • Recruiting rural lawyers • Some cities lose eligibility for USDA home loan program • Alaska has contest for better water treatment systems • Irish institute program for rural LGBTs.

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Pipeline Lawsuit. You wouldn’t know it from reading the New Yorker, but the best chance opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have to stop the controversial project may rest with landowner lawsuits in Nebraska.

Landowners have sued the state of Nebraska for the way it handed over the power of eminent domain to the builder of the proposed pipeline, TransCanada.

After TransCanada had trouble getting Nebraska landowners to voluntarily allow the pipeline to cross their properties, the state took several steps to bolster the foreign corporation’s authority to force property owners to accept the proposed pipeline.

First, it took the right of eminent domain from the Public Utility Commission and handed it to a politically appointed body. Then the legislature, in the final minutes of the 2012 legislative session, voted to let the governor hand over eminent domain authority to a private corporation. So, in effect, a foreign corporation, TransCanada, is not only building the pipeline; the corporation also has the state authority to condemn and take property against the wishes of landowners.

“This law, they say, violates the Nebraska Constitution,” writes Ted Genoways for onearth.com, a website published by the Natural Resources Defense Council,  “first by transferring a power reserved by the legislative branch (the Public Service Commission) to the executive branch (the governor), and second by eliminating the opportunity for judicial review, which had been allowed under previous legislation governing the siting of pipelines.”

A judge heard oral arguments in the case last week. A ruling is expected by the end of the year. Whichever side loses will appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, further delaying action. The attorney for the landowners says the delay is good for pipeline opponents because it allows more time to debate the merits of the proposed pipeline. “The groundswell of support and opposition and questioning and critical thinking going on is huge,” the attorney said.

Rural Journalism Award. It’s easy to miss some of the nation’s best journalism. That’s because some truly remarkable practitioners of this craft are distributing their work through the pages of small-town weeklies, little radio stations and other local media. Instead of making a national splash, these journalists have focused their work on making an impact at home.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps call attention to the work of these important public servants. IRJCI sponsors the annual Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. The award is named in honor of its first recipients, editors who truly personified those journalism values as editors of the Whitesburg Mountain Eagle. Subsequent recipients have lived up to the Gish’s high standards for community journalism.

IRJCI needs your help in identifying these exemplary rural journalists – the ones who set high standards, stand up for what’s right and keep the interests of their community first.

Here’s the kicker: Because rural journalism reaches local audiences, it’s pretty much a sure thing that if you don’t nominate your candidate, no one else is going to do it either.

So take a look at the entry information. And if you have someone who qualifies, you have until October 31 to send a letter of nomination to IRJCI.

Here’s how.

Rural Futures Names New Director. Charles P. “Chuck” Schroeder has been named executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute. Schroeder, a Nebraska native, is president of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

The 2013 Rural Futures Conference, “Beyond Boundaries,” is November 3-5.

Nebraska Recruits Rural Lawyers. And more Nebraska news … Nebraska has joined neighboring South Dakota in creating a program to increase the number of lawyers serving rural communities, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports. The program is starting with creating connections between law students and some rural areas. A rural attorney shortage in the state is driven by economics and has economic repercussions, says Tom Sonntag, an attorney in the Nebraska town of Sydney:

New graduates are less likely to take rural jobs because they pay less than city jobs, which is a growing concern with rising student loan debt.

Sonntag thinks that this becomes an economic issue as well, because when people travel outside the county for legal aid, they might do some shopping or pay for other services while in bigger cities.

“I don’t see where that helps the community out when someone travels out of town to see a lawyer,” Sonntag said.

The bar association points to the benefits of practicing in a rural community: accelerated career advancement and lower cost of living.

Home Loan Program. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, World reports on repercussions of population shifts that have made some communities ineligible for USDA guaranteed home loans. Eligibility for the program is based on population figures from the decennial Census. Several areas in the Oklahoma have passed the population threshold in the last 10 years. And that’s true in other states, as well.

Water Treatment Contest in Alaska. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is holding a contest of sorts to spur development of a new technology to provide water and sewer service to far-flung rural communities. Inventors and innovators have until November 15 to submit a proposal for making decentralized water and sewer treatment systems. The top six proposals will get funding to develop their ideas for the next phase of the competition.

Among the many design challenges: How to provide running water to communities where water is frozen for much of the year, writes Carey Restino in the Alaska Dispatch, which bills itself as “news and voices from the last frontier.”

Ploughing (sic) Ahead. The Irish Minister of Agriculture has announced an educational program to support LGBT residents of rural Ireland. Simon Coveney made the announcement at the national plowing championships in Ratheniska, County.  The announcement coincided with the first-ever participation of a gay group in the plowing championship.

The National Ploughing Championships is a three-day outdoor exhibit and agricultural trade show that attracts about 200,000 attendees. It’s also a popular spot for politicians.

 

 

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