Keystone pipeline a hot topic in debates
Despite any signs of a green light from the current administration for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it continues to make headlines with those opposing it planning benefit concerts and making field art in Nebraska. In addition to the art talents coming out, the project also faces a new hurdle involving South Dakota tribes.
The decision to build it or not still lies within President Obama’s control, but the general consensus seems to be a no-go, at least for 2014. However, the November election and a change in Senate control could influence the outcome in 2015, which is likely on the minds of those on both sides of the pipeline debate.
In Neligh, NE, two music legends—Neil Young and Willie Nelson—will perform a benefit concert Sept. 27 on a farm that is on the route of the proposed pipeline and also crosses the historic Ponca Tribe “Trail of Tears.”
Proceeds from what they have named the “Harvest the Hope” concert will go to Bold Nebraska, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Cowboy & Indian Alliance, to fund the ongoing fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as a number of small, community-based clean energy projects on farms and tribal land. The afternoon concert will take place in a field on a farm owned by a family who are part of a strong collective of Nebraska landowners refusing to sell their land to Trans- Canada for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.
In April, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance created a crop art image, on display for the summer, in the direct path of the pipeline the size of 80 football fields, to send President Obama their anti-pipeline message. Tribes, farmers and ranchers followed the plans by heading to Washington, DC, for a week-long series of actions called Reject and Protect.
“Americans always go big when they’re pushed to their limits. This image, which may well be the largest crop art ever, sends the message that the good people of the Heartland have the courage to stand up for their rights to clean water. They reject the bullying of TransCanada and will defend their land,” said artist John Quigley.
Despite the November election, the final decision will still belong to Obama, and he did originally go on record, saying he would give it the green light if it did not intensify climate change. During a speech in 2013, Obama said he would pass the pipeline as long as it did “not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.” But this ongoing battle—the original application was submitted in 2008—has divided not only Democrats and Republicans, but also agriculture.
A new study, submitted earlier this month to the Nature Climate Change, claims the pipeline could add up to 121 million tons in new carbon dioxide emission by lowering prices and increasing consumption. Supporters of the pipeline disagree, saying supply of oil will not be affected, but how it goes to market will.
In addition, supporters of the pipeline point out the current flaws of the transport now, including railcar use, along with trucks. The cost of rail transport has increased, and there are fewer options to move farm products. In addition, some supporters point out the increased damage to roads in North Dakota areas because of truck traffic moving the oil.
On Aug. 19, at the Dakota Fest Farm Show, a debate between state Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and her Democratic challenger Corinna Robinson focused on the pipeline that would transport the Canadian crude oil to Gulf-state refiners through western South Dakota. “I think if there were ever a time to build a keystone pipeline it’s right now,” Noem said, followed by vast applause from approximately 150 attendees.
But despite Noem’s support of the project, a growing anti-pipeline coalition in South Dakota has a different view, and is hoping to protect the land, water and people in its path. An alliance of Protect the Sacred Movement of the Ihanktonwan/Yankton; the Bridger Spiritual Camp, Pte Ospaye; the Lower Brule Spiritual Camp, Wiconi Un Tipi; the Rosebud Spiritual Camp, Oyate Wahacanka Woecun; Dakota Rural Action; and the Indigenous Environmental Network have launched the No KXL Dakota, in an effort to fight the Keystone XL pipeline.
Before TransCanada can build within state borders, the company must certify its permit, proving it still meets the original permit conditions, according to a press release from the coalition. The coalition is preparing to fight the permit certification at the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, and expects the company to file for certification this year.
“In the spring of 2008 Dakota Rural Action began organizing farmers and ranchers into a landowners group that has worked to ensure a safer pipeline and a fairer easement with TransCanada,” explains Paul Seamans, Dakota Rural Action chair. “During the six years since, DRA has formed alliances with many different groups that are in opposition to the KXL. Having learned of the harm to our environment caused by the mining and transporting of tar sands oil, we oppose the pipeline and will work to ensure the South Dakota permit is not certified.”
Another kink and delay in the XL pipeline decision involves the Nebraska Supreme Court, and a lawsuit over the proposed path of the 1,200-mile line. The court has scheduled oral arguments to begin Sept. 5, but the outcome is not likely to come before the end of the year.
The Nebraska ruling will address a dispute that has involved the state’s politicians, ranchers and regulators. State lawmakers last year cleared the way for the pipeline after a new route was set, but a group of landowners challenged the decision.
In February, a district court sided with landowners who want the Nebraska Public Service Commission to rule on the path. Governor Dave Heineman asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to overrule in the Thompson vs. Heineman, case number S-14-0158.
While the opposition is increasing pressure, supporters have been relatively quiet the past few months. But legislation brought by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, did pass out of the committee in June. The bill, if passed through the Senate, would approve the construction of the Keystone pipeline through the Senate Energy Committee, bypassing Congress.
Landrieu cited two big events that are creating the much needed push for approval.
“The Canadian government has conditionally approved the 730-mile Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline to send oil sands to the West Coast of Canada instead of the Gulf Coast,” she shared and her second event revolved around al- Qaeda’s militant attacks on the largest oil refinery in Iraq, producing over 350,000 barrels of oil per day—nearly the same amount the United States imports from Iraq.
“The Keystone Pipeline would transport nearly two and a half times that amount to American refineries,” Sen. Landrieu said.
“Last month, I said that the battle to build the Keystone Pipeline was not over.
Today was the latest skirmish, and, unlike some, I’m not giving up until it is built,” Sen. Landrieu said in June. “I’ve been in a lot of tough fights over the years, and the ones that matter the most are the toughest. I won’t give up on Keystone until we get it built, and I will press for a vote on the Senate floor.”
Landrieu is up for reelection and it appears her Keystone battle has been put on the back burner, at least in her campaign, for now.
But the topic will likely be at the top of many campaigns and heated debates in the coming months. Just last week, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent time in Arkansas to point out the differences between the Republican and Democratic 2nd District congressional candidates—and that difference is primarily the Keystone pipeline.
McCarthy joined Republican candidate French Hill in a news conference at the Welspun pipe manufacturing plant in Little Rock, a plant that blames worker layoffs on the pipeline’s delay.
McCarthy and Hill criticized Democratic candidate Patrick Henry Hays for his signature on a November 2011 letter sent to President Obama stating that the Keystone project was “not in the national interest.” Hays later came out with supporting statements on the project.
“There is a contrast in what’s happening in America today, a contrast to the current Obama economy and what could be for America, and it’s going on right here in this congressional race,” Mc- Carthy (R-CA) said.
“My question to Mr. Hays is: is it not in the national interest, or even in the interest of Arkansas, to have people working?” McCarthy said.
Hays, a former state legislator and North Little Rock mayor, supports the Keystone project, his campaign said in a statement. Hays’ website states that he “strongly supports completion of the Keystone pipeline.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor