Behind the singing, anti-pipeline stars clash with pipeline promoters


September 29th, 2014

Neligh, NE – On stage in front of an estimated 8,000 concertgoers, Neil Young was sweetly singing “Heart of Gold” one minute. But a short while before, he’d been harshly berating the industry that wants to build Keystone XL to pipe oil from the sands of Alberta, Canada to Texas.


Young called the pipeline a “big, invisible enemy” whose true form is now becoming clear. “It’s not a piece of metal and it’s not an oil tanker train. It’s not a pipe. It’s none of those things. It’s corporate greed,” he declared.

Young allied himself with people who argue stopping the pipeline will help keep Canadian oil sands oil in the ground, instead of allowing it to be extracted and contribute to global warming.

Neil Young sings at anti-Keystone XL pipeline concert (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Neil Young sings at anti-Keystone XL pipeline concert (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

But in an interview before the concert, Michael Whatley of the Consumer Energy Alliance, which includes oil companies and business customers, accused Young and co-headliner Willie Nelson of hypocrisy.

“Having a couple of very, very wealthy artists who are going to parachute into Nebraska and tell everybody else ‘Don’t do what we do, ‘cause we’re going to keep our planes and we’re going to keep our tour buses — but you guys go without and you pay higher fuel prices for everything you do,’ we have a lot of heartburn there,” Whatley said.

Back on stage, Willie Nelson once again officially advised mothers not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. But at the pre-concert news conference, Nelson blamed corporations for the plight of farmers and ranchers, linking that to the anti-pipeline effort.

“We do shows. We go up and down the highway. The farmers come to our show – the ranchers — and they tell us what’s going on. So We have been trying to figure out what to do about the farmers and their situation for 29 years. And for 29 years the corporations have continued to take the land away from the small family farmers. And this is what we’re here to fight against,” Nelson said.

But Shawn Howard, spokesman for TransCanada, the corporation that wants to build the pipeline, said in an interview before the concert that something else is hurting farmers: “There’s going to be many important voices that aren’t represented at that concert, and some of those voices are the farmers and workers who are going to be hurt the most by the delays of this project,” Howard said.

Howard argued farmers are hurt by not being able to get grain to market by rail, because trains are being used to carry oil instead. And he said construction workers are being denied jobs that would be created building the pipeline. The company estimates more than 9,000 jobs would be created during construction. The State Department estimated 3,900 temporary construction jobs, and 50 permanent jobs once the pipeline is built.

Young, who grew up in Canada and remains a Canadian citizen but has live in the U.S. for over 50 years, told the concert audience not to believe TransCanada. “That’s the whole TransCanada story. It’s all Canadian bull****. Just forget it. Take it from one who’s heard it before,” he said.

In anticipation of the criticism, Howard was asked if he had anything to say to Young. After a long pause, he replied simply “Nope.”

Whatley sounded philosophical about the public relations impact of the concert. “It is certainly going to be among the highest visibility, highest profile events that the anti-Keystone, anti-development groups have been able to pull together,” he said. “It is going to generate a lot of conversation about the pipeline.”

“We actually think it’s a good conversation to have, because the more the American people have learned about this pipeline over the course of the last six years, the more they like it,” he added.

Five public opinion polls taken over the last three years have shown Americans’ support for building the pipeline hovering at between 60 and 65 percent.

Judging by crowd reaction at the anti-pipeline concert, far more people there agreed with the feelings of Nancy Ganz of Lincoln, who said “I come from a family of farmers, and they very much disagree with the pipeline. Water is more important than oil.”

Some concert goers supported the pipeline, while others, like Mike Nash of Omaha, had no an opinion. “Actually, I’m here for the music and the chicks,” Nash said.

Nash figured he still has time to make up his mind. “You know, it’s been going on for what – four or five years now? So I guess I can stay undecided for a little while yet,” he said, laughing.

The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the year whether the pipeline siting process in this state was constitutional. President Obama has indicated he will wait until after that decision to make his own about whether or not to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. – Canadian border.

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