Maybe the Dakota Access Pipeline Can Also Result in North Dakota’s Dumb Corporate Farming Ban Getting Struck Down

Law enforcement stand atop Turtle Hill on the Cannonball Ranch watching as protesters stand at the base while others stand across the water on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 24, 2016, in southern Morton County. A makeshift bridge placed by the protesters allowed them access to the private property. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

In the fall of 2016, at the height of the violent left wing protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Dean Meyer sold the historic Cannonball Ranch to Dakota Access LLC, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline crosses the ranch, and the construction on that property at the time was a major target of protesters who were willing to use vandalism and trespass and physical violence to try and stop it.

“It’s a beautiful ranch, but I just wanted out,” former owner David Meyer told the folks at KXNews at the time.

But that action has drawn criticism from proponents of North Dakota’s very stupid ban on corporate farming. As the Bismarck Tribune reports, “State law prohibits corporations and limited liability companies from owning or leasing farmland and ranchland unless the land is necessary for commercial development.”

“North Dakota has lost nearly two-thirds of its farms since the 1930s, and the number of farms continues to fall—even though the anti-corporate farming law has been in effect through all of those years,” columnist Mike Jacobs wrote in 2016

Now Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office has filed a lawsuit alleging that Dakota Access LLC’s on-going ownership of the land is illegal. “DAPL’s continued ownership of the land constitutes a continuing violation of state law,” the complaint in the suit states.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has already been pretty great for North Dakota. It addressed a transportation crunch North Dakota oil producers were facing when trying to bring their product to market. Late last year Justin Kringstad, Director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, estimated that Dakota Access resulted in a roughly $2 per barrel price increase for oil produced in the state. Not only does that make oil production in North Dakota more resilient in the face of lower prices, not only does it mean more earnings for North Dakota mineral owners, but it’s also meant somewhere in the ballpark of about $6 million per month in additional tax revenues for the state.

But maybe the folks at Dakota Access would be willing to give North Dakotans another gift. Maybe they’ll fight this lawsuit and along the way inspire the courts to strike down North Dakota’s stupid corporate farming ban.

It is, after all, an affront to property rights.

The impetus for that law’s existence were fears that out-of-state corporate interests would buy up North Dakota land and drive family farms out of business.

Only it hasn’t worked. “North Dakota has lost nearly two-thirds of its farms since the 1930s, and the number of farms continues to fall—even though the anti-corporate farming law has been in effect through all of those years,” columnist Mike Jacobs wrote in 2016 during a debate over a partial repeal of the corporate farming ban passed by the Legislature and referred to the ballot by the deep pockets at the North Dakota Farmer’s Union.

Beyond the efficacy of the policy itself is the question of fundamental rights. Why can’t free people, organized into the form of a corporation, own land in North Dakota? Current law allows families to form a corporation for the purposes of owning land to farm and ranch, but it prohibits that same sort of organization among non-familial relations.

That sort of discrimination is unconstitutional.

We all have the individual right to property. We shouldn’t lose that right because we organize ourselves into groups like church congregations or labor unions or corporations.

I suspect the folks at Dakota Access are going to take the path of least resistance here. They are, after all, a pipeline company with little to gain from drawing a line in the sand on this issue.

But if they wanted to do North Dakotans another good turn, beyond bringing their wonderful pipeline to our state, they’d fight this fight and win.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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