Free Markets, Capitalism, Private Property Rights & Eminent Domain

by jhwygirl

Eminent domain has been something that our Governor Brian Schweitzer wants addressed.

What he and a whole bunch of others in both the legislature and in Canada and elsewhere want is for the Montana-Alberta Tie Limited (MATL) to be able to build its line where they want to build it. Meaning that Canadian company Tonbridge Power, Inc. needs to be able to condemn private property for the many that are standing in the way.

Wasn’t there an outcry back in 2005 over Kelo v. New London? In that case it was one homeowner.

Aren’t there whole skyscrapers built around little houses in NYC?

It seems to me this is capitalism and the free market at its finest. There’s a ranch owner up near Choteau that doesn’t want the lines going through a particular area on his property. Tonbridge is a private company. They don’t have the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is for public uses. Tonbridge just wants to move its power from Alberta to Colorado and California.

Shouldn’t the private company then deal in the true free market?

Offer him more money. At some point, it’s either going to be cost effective or not. Then you move the line.

And I understand what that means – but that’s the free market. Embrace it, baby!

The Montana GOP is floating a new proposal. Remember, there’s a whole bunch of people that want this thing, not just Schweitzer, not just Tonbridge, not just Northwestern Energy, (who also wants to be able to condemn for its Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI), and not just some Democrats.

The original bill, HB198 , was truly bipartisan creation..

Sen. Essmann, from Billings, has an amendment that would not allow condemnation of “collector” lines from smaller energy sources (say, a wind farm here in Montana?)…but would still bring the straight line of authority and loss/benefit between the private property (Tonbridge or Northwestern Energy).

The idea that the the state would not want to step in on this issue like is astounding.

Further, this opens a key to corporate interests picking the shortest most profitable line. Plan first, takings later. Guaranteed.

Essmann’s proposal, frankly, ensures that we’ll have tons of lines crossing the landscape and no planned consolidation which would make investment significantly easier and reducing impact on Montana’s greatest resource (and I shouldn’t have to say what that is).

The solution needs to eliminate that direct authority of private interests over private property and the individual Montanan.

There also has to be some true public benefit. not a handful of jobs.

One of these days – and especially after this session – someone’s going to count all the jobs, who they went to (brought in from out-of-state?) and what they did (my bet is that we end up with a whole bunch of attorneys, judges and copy stores).

Alas – those darned Montanans and their crazy property rights ethic. They take offense to handing over eminent domain powers to private corporations. I don’t know that it matters much that they’re from Canada..or that the people, benefiting from the power line are in California and Colorado.

And Canada too, I guess.

What Montanans don’t want to see is an open door for a private entity to come in and decide that they want to profit off of what many have called the west’s breadbasket of wind and have the feds authorizing lines with no regard to whether the private property owner or the locally and state-level elected authorities approve of the thing.

This reversion to and embracing of Montana colonialism astounds me. We’re prostituting ourselves with the state’s resources that are not unlimited.

Coal? Otter Creek, we gave that away. Oil & gas? Nowthey’ll be drilling first and then doing an environmental review.

Even these powerlines. While advocates for allowing a private corporation to condemn private property for their own private interests gain cry “this is for green energy” their calls are fake. Aside from the particular facts of MATL, the issue isn’t what it carries – it’s the power it gives to private entities.

Tonbridge and Northwestern Energy are ramping up pressure. Northwestern recent filed an amicus brief in the current case in Tonbridge’s appeal of a lower court which ruled that eminent domain authority only rests with the state. Teton County’s Choteau Acantha has the fullest reporting I’ve seen on this.

Concerned Citizens Montana is a website formed by those not supporting eminent domain ability for private companies, and it has an aggregate of information from many places.

Will the legislature hand over private property takings rights to private entities?

Let’s hope some true conservative libertarian sense reigns.

  1. Just for your information, there is also a group of landowners on the Canadian side who do not want the line either. We have tried and failed to stop it in our court system. We are still fighting and are not giving up. We have a website dedicated to landowner rights and fighting MATL. We are in full support of the US landowners and are in contact with some of them.


  2. John Vincent

    Great Piece! I represent all 5 counties that would be impacted by the MSTI line on the Montana Public Service Commission. I have been working for over two years now with the grassroots folks fighting the project and recently, in opposing HB 198. In my opinion, HB 198 is the most important bill and worst bill of the session because, to make a long story short, it does, in fact, (under current Montana law, give the unfettered right of eminent domain to private individuals and corporations for private gain and profit. I’m especially angered by the fact that many of my Democratic, environmental friends have, to date, supported this anti-Montana, anti Montanans legislation. I thought that Governor Schweitzer, who lays claim to a ranching heritage, would strike a blow for Montana agriculture and property rights by opposing this terrible piece of legislation. I was wrong. I have developed a great deal of information on MSTI, property rights, energy policy and many other related topics. If you email me at I’ll get it to you.
    John Vincent
    Montana Public Service Commissioner

  3. joan amundson


    Bless you for paying attention to this issue. It impacts all property owners. HB 198 opens up Pandora’s box and every Montanan should be concerned. It’s pure greed, and it would hurt families, towns and the reputation of our state. NWE already admitted 7 full-time Montana jobs would result from MSTI. Big whoop. And state revenue comes from all of us in the form of higher rates. The jobs lost in ranching, farming, real estate, tourism and all the business that depend on them will be thrashed. Businesses and families that rely on affordable energy will be strained. No one has studied job destruction, harm to businesses, ratepayers, wildlife corridors, historic lands, rivers and the list goes on. BTW, check out the MATL map of proposed lines…our entire state could be littered with behemoth transmission towers. Buh bye Big Sky? Again, I am so grateful you have your eye on this. Lee papers (think big ad revenue from NWE…) have been damn quiet and damned bias on HB 198.

  4. While not necessarilly against MSTI or MATL, I would strongly oppose this bill on it’s face. Private Corporations or entities should NEVER have the right of eminent domain – EVER. This is something that should only be done by the Government – in full view of public inspection and comment – and never behind the closed doors of a conference room.

    I honestly believe that resource utilization is one of the ways Montana will weather the economy of the future (hopefully in a reasoned and measured way) but this is one power that should never be abdicated to the private sector.

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