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The concept of property rights has always been a fundamental value espoused by conservatives. It goes along with their philosophy that individuals should be able to do what they want on their property without interference from government regulations. It appears, however, that conservatives are very selective in their desire to protect individual property rights.

Texas, for example, is usually against government regulation and interference, especially by the federal government. Yet, Texas does not seem to want to show the same restraint toward its fellow citizens. With a Republican governor and legislature, Texas has gone to court to take away the property rights of individuals, as well as local control for cities and counties, for the benefit of Texas oil and gas companies.

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The issue involves the practice of fracking to reach underground oil and gas not available by normal drilling practices. Many individuals, cities and towns in Texas don't want oil and gas fracking on their property or within their city limits. But Texas has successfully taken them to court with the idea that their property rights do not extend to the land and minerals under their feet. Thus, if an oil company wants to extract oil and gas from under their homes or towns, individual property owners and city officials have no say in the matter, even though research has demonstrated that this activity may destroy their drinking water or increase the risks of earthquakes.

Montana citizens are now experiencing the same problem. Instead of oil and gas fracking, however, the people of Montana are fighting to keep the infamous Keystone pipeline from crossing over their private property. One might think that if an oil company wants to build a pipeline across your property, they would need your permission. But in Montana, controlled by Republicans, the state is taking individual farmers to court to force them to allow the Keystone pipeline to cross their property.

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The Keystone pipeline, if built, will run for 1,179 miles and carry oil from Canada south into the United States, where it will eventually be loaded onto tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline would cross Montana as it heads south, and many farmers in its path do not want the pipeline on their property. These farmers have valid concerns for both their property and their livelihood. A similar pipeline nearby sprang a leak last month and dumped 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. As a result, thousands of people living along the Yellowstone River who use the river as their primary fresh water source no longer have safe drinking water for themselves or their livestock.

You might think that conservatives who run the state governments in Texas and Montana would be rushing to protect the property rights of their constituents. But you would be wrong. Instead, they are taking their constituents to court and forcing them to allow oil workers on their property.

It seems that the claims of property rights, which many individual citizens thought protected them from the government, only applies when these states want to avoid federal regulations, especially environmental regulations, which actually protect their citizens. However, when it comes to protecting individual citizens against big oil and gas companies, at least in Texas and Montana, individual property rights don't apply.

This has been a rude awakening for the people of Texas and Montana, many of whom are conservatives themselves and have consistently voted for the Republican politicians now taking them to court. Many, however, are beginning to take notice that their state politicians are not looking after their property or their rights.

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Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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