Keystone pipeline still gushing controversy

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March 17th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Controversy continues over a proposed oil pipeline through the Sandhills, following the State Department’s announcement that it will require a supplemental environmental impact statement. Opponents of the pipeline, including Jane Fleming Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska, said that gives Nebraska officials more time that they should use to act.

“Governor Heineman could issue an executive order,” Kleeb said. “The state Legislature could do an emergency law. We have processes in place. We can take that ownership and leadership and say ‘We’re going to pass a law to say the Sandhills are off limits.’ The ball is essentially in the court of our state elected leaders on the route of the pipeline.”

Gov. Dave Heineman says Kleeb's approach to opposing the Keystone pipeline is backfiring (Photo credit State of Nebraska)

Bills to enact state regulation are bottled up in the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee. In a news conference, Heineman said he’d continue to work with Sen. Mike Johanns, who’s raised questions about the pipeline route at the federal level, and he suggested Kleeb’s approach to the issue was backfiring.

“I think most Nebraskans think her aggressive, partisan, attack-style politics don’t serve Nebraska very well.,” Heineman said. “Clearly the Natural Resources committee rejected her thoughts.”

Kleeb, former executive director of the Young Democrats of America, brushed aside the Republican governor’s criticism.

“I think any time an elected official takes a personal swipe at me, which has happened twice this week around this issue” she said, “I think it’s them diverting attention to the lack of leadership they’ve provided on this issue.”

But Heineman made it clear that, at least for now, he doesn’t want to push for state pipeline regulation.

“I try to let the Legislature have their discussion on their bills,” he said, “and then we’ll see what gets to my desk. I’ve said all along we ought to have the discussion, and then they need to make a determination whether there are bills that are appropriate to move into law. And at least right now, I think they’re rejecting that. This is all part of the legislative process; I try not to interfere at such an early stage. And we’ll see what they end up doing.”

One Response

  1. Stew Magnuson says:

    Some 175 years ago, the migrants traveling on the Oregon Trail gazed north of the Platte River at the Sand Hills of Nebraska Territory and called them a wasteland.
    Modern day travelers on Interstate 80 fly by at 75 miles per hour and know little of what lies beyond the flat river valley. Nebraska is derisively called a “flyover” state by those on the East and West Coast.
    Many Americans today scorn the prairie, the Great Plains, the wide open spaces, as a flat, uninteresting places. Sadly, there are residents of the state who share this belief.
    I keep all this in mind when I think about the ill-conceived plan to build the Keystone XL high-pressure oil pipeline through the beautiful and delicate Nebraska Sand Hills.
    I wonder why any Nebraskan would want such a travesty to happen. Is it because they too, have contempt for their native land? Do they too believe that all that sits outside the city limits of Omaha and Lincoln is a “wasteland?”
    The Keystone Pipeline’s expansion project, as proposed by TransCanada, will cut through what the naturalist Stephen R. Jones called “the last prairie,” the Sand Hills.
    The Sand Hills were never the Great American Desert as those on the westbound trails thought. The Oregonians and Mormons were wrong.
    The problem in the subsequent decades after the westward migration and the settlement of the state is that we never had a prairie version of John Muir, the naturalist who advocated to save Yosemite Valley in California and founded the Sierra Club. He devoted his life to saving trees. In the 19th Century, no one was concerned about saving grass. Today, a look on roadmaps reveals a few scattered, green patches of national grasslands from Oklahoma to North Dakota. But how many Nebraskans pack up the car with the kids and the tents and drive off for a vacation in one of these protected areas? The children would probably try to run away from home before embarking on such a trip. They have been taught that the only beautiful places on Earth have mountains—or roller-coasters and theme rides—and the only animals worth saving reside in forests.
    This proposed pipeline shortcut constitutes a real threat to a land that is every bit as beautiful as the Black Hills, Yosemite or Yellowstone. The Sand Hills are a mysterious region that geologists have puzzled over for generations. The grasses turn green in the spring, and through the summer, change to subtle shades of tan during the dry months. A drive up Highway 83 from North Platte to Valentine in the late summer is as exhilarating as the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park. It’s a different kind of beauty, but the beauty is there nonetheless. One simply has to look for it.
    The dunes are, for the time being, protected by the thinnest layers of topsoil and short-grasses. As any West Nebraska rancher will confirm, it doesn’t take much to destroy this protective grass, and create a blowout of drifting sand. The thought of earthmovers, and semis loaded with steel running roughshod over this land is horrifying.
    Underneath these complex and multi-faceted dunes of grass lies one of our nation’s greatest natural resources, the Ogallala Aquifer. This vast reservoir of water that would be under the proposed pipeline might be out of sight and out of mind for Omaha and Lincoln residents, but as William Ashworth said in his book, Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains, chances are anyone who put on cotton underwear this morning, had cornflakes for breakfast, or a slice of toast, consumed water coming out of the aquifer.
    The aquifer in the Sand Hills soaks up the precious ran like a sponge, where it seeps in the earth and then, through a process that is still little understood, comes up in springs to feed the river valleys. Introducing oil into this process could be a disaster.
    Any pipeline will traverse at some point the Niobrara, one of the state’s most scenic rivers. The river valleys of the Great Plains are to be treasured as some of the highlights of any road trip. Imagine thick, acidic oil leaking into the Niobrara.
    Are Nebraskans so unappreciative — or emotionally cut off from the land they call home — that they would sell it out for what amounts to some temp jobs for pipefitters?
    No matter what the well-funded, oil-company propagandists say, this pipeline will leak somewhere, and it will spill oil onto this unique region. It happens to pipelines all the time. It’s very simple. Everything built by mankind eventually breaks. Will the first fissures come where the pipeline spans the Niobrara or Loup Rivers? It’s impossible to say.
    The Sand Hills region is not a wasteland. There is nothing like them in our great nation. They need to be protected from those who think they can put a price on this priceless land.

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