For several decades now, the political interests of the energy and agricultural communities have been closely aligned in the Wyoming Legislature — against federal regulations, but for federal tax breaks and support programs. Oh, and by the way, getting pretty much what they wanted from the state government and along similar lines.
For all those years, Big Ag and Big Energy were reliable allies, but perhaps not for much longer. A deep fracture line has appeared between the two groups, and it is called eminent domain.
Dustin Bleizeffer of the Casper Star Tribune has a New Year’s Day package exploring the issue, including how landowners are objecting to a railroad’s use of eminent domain, and a Rock Springs businessman who was forced to relocate his businesses by the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Basically, more and more ranchers, landowners and business people are feeling like road kill on the super highway to progress. Energy companies, railroads, government all use eminent domain to achieve their goals, and it has been going on for a long time. When it happened to just a few, the rest tended to shrug their shoulders and chalk it up to the price paid for progress — a good thing for everyone.
What’s different now, is the super-heated pace of energy development and growth in Wyoming. The number of people getting run over by eminent domain is growing, and it seems like there’s a critical mass of resentment and betrayal building up. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the upcoming legislative session, but it could well be that there are enough angry, bitter people out there, that the legislature will listen and even up the playing field between the big boys and the little guys.
And that brings the alliance between Big Ag and Big Energy into question, because more and more of the ag community wants that even playing field while the energy community likes things the way they are right now, thank you very much.
That alliance could hold this session and not take action on eminent domain reform, or it could find a workable compromise that neither side likes, but both can accept. The big risk of doing nothing, of course, is that more people will feel victimized, the anger will grow and in desperation, the ag community might turn on the energy community in a progressive revolt not seen for 100 years.