Apr 27 2009

Just Compensation?

Spectra Speak:  “Just Compensation” = Compensation Just for Us

“… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
– 5th Amendment to US Constitution, Bill of Rights

Spectra Energy knows how to spend money in the right places: from generous compensation for its execs and board members, to sports sponsorships.

For example, last week, the company announced it would financially support eight Canadian and US amateur athletes “competing for their national teams in winter sports.”  See link:

The corporate press release did not disclose the amount of funding donated by Spectra Energy, but according to Allen Cameron, reporting in the Calgary Herald, “Spectra is doling out a total of $214,000 over three years to the Olympic hopefuls.”  See link:  http://www.canada.com/sports/2010wintergames/Canadian+doesn+into+funding+irony/1530062/story.html

Corporate social responsibility?  Or a smarmy way to achieve community and political “buy in” (so to speak) in order to offset issues like eminent domain “takings” and environmental problems?

There are variations on this theme in communities across North America where Spectra Energy is seizing property rights and dismissing property owners with the confident application of its power of eminent domain – thanks to government.

Spectra representatives show up at local 4H events, buy the prize steer and give it back to the youngster who raised it.

They hope the sound of local applause will drown out the invasive sound of their seizure of private property rights in those same communities.  And it’s easier than treating property owners as key stakeholders who possess the vital asset Spectra Energy desperately needs to secure its profitable business model.

Here is a test of value:  Who would be hurt the most if property rights could no longer be seized by Spectra Energy?  Hint:  Property owners would throw a party and not invite Spectra Energy – even if they offered to buy the potato salad.  On the other hand, Spectra Energy would be in deep tapioca.  That speaks to who possesses the most valued asset.  For many property owners, Spectra Energy’s seizures significantly diminish the value of their property.

As a business, Spectra Energy has many assets – but property owners are not one of them.  Property owners’ asset – THEIR land – is seized by Spectra Energy under the power of government via eminent domain (or expropriation in Canada).

Spectra Energy gives lip service to the notion of “just compensation” but is dismissive of it in reality.  It tells landowners – in writing – that they have a right to seek just compensation in court, then files a motion with the federal judge asking him to forbid property owners from making various economic loss arguments because it would confuse, mislead and distract the jury.  See the April 3 blog titled “Words vs. Deeds” at this link: http://spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=187

This is the same company that:

  • Paid its CEO Fred Fowler nearly $5 million in compensation last year, according to the Associated Press.  Now that’s “just compensation” in the gas industry!  Fowler retired as CEO at the end of 2008 and now sits on the board of directors.
  • Refuses to offer landowners the same (and better) lease agreement it willingly signed with their next-door neighbor, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, for use of public lands (i.e., taxpayer funded lands).
  • Dismisses landowners in press accounts as greedy and wanting more than their damages are worth, according to Susan Waller, Spectra Energy’s VP of Stakeholder Outreach.  (Stakeholder Outreach!)  This is the same Ms. Waller who admitted in a July 1, 2008 e-mail, that storage capacity “is a vital tool in providing the market with timely access to its contracted supplies.”  (Emphasis added.)

This “vital tool” – seized by Spectra Energy from property owners – will allow it to use a different (and more profitable) pricing model to charge its customers for storing their gas under our property, the “vital tool.”

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