Many people think the issue is over and the pipeline is defeated, but it is far from it.
Yesterday my friend Cecily and I attended the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) public hearing on the pipeline re-route proposal. The hearing was held in Albion, Nebraska, a town of 1650 people in rural north central Nebraska. Albion is in the middle of the latest proposed pipeline route, which still runs right over the precious Ogallala Aquifer, the very thing NE Governor Heineman wrote to President Obama asking him to stop.
There were hundreds of people at the meeting, the majority in strong opposition. An impressive number of farmers and ranchers who were on the old route showed up to testify against the new one because it isn't right to do this to their neighbors, either.
Representatives of Americans For Prosperity were also there, as were lots of people walking around in t-shirts that said to support the pipeline because it brings jobs and energy independence, neither of which it does. Labor unions strongly support the pipeline based on the bogus job-creating claim.
The NDEQ's own report says just 10 permanent Nebraska jobs will be created by the XL pipeline. That's right, ten. No more than the number of fingers on your hands.The lies in the pipeline supporter's testimonies were rampant, bold-faced and shocking. Several people conflated it with national security, the price of gas, human rights in other countries, etc. It was just amazing.
Some supporters maintained the pipeline would reduce the US dependency on foreign oil, even though it is well-known that all of the oil going through the pipeline is destined for sale to foreign countries.One pipeline supporter mispronounced "Ogallala Aquifer" so many times that some one finally yelled out, "Nebraskans pronounce it 'Oh-ga-la-la'!" to which she haughtily admitted, "Well, I'm from North Carolina!"
What the pipeline will do is keep us stuck in an unrequited love affair with fossil fuels that is killing our planet.
Several Native American tribal elders attended to ask for rejection of the pipeline, pointing out that since they were never consulted on where it crosses their land, it violates long-standing US treaties with sovereign nations and it violates the US Constitution. I couldn't help but think about the irony in that for the tea partiers in attendance. I also thought, "When are we going to stop taking land from the Native Americans in this country?!!"
A representative from Nebraskans for Energy Independence testified in favor of the pipeline based on his organization's position that energy policy should be an "all of the above" approach. I hear Obama say this too, but I always hope it's just his way of placating opposition to renewables and allowing a bridge from old to new technology. When you see it applied in your own back yard, it's less attractive.
More than one member of the general public pointed out that Keystone maintains, and the NDEQ mysteriously accepts, a monitoring standard that allows 1-2% flow leakage from the pipeline into the environment without detection. This apparently equates to an "acceptable leak", otherwise they would use stricter controls.
Put in real terms, this means that 588,000 gallons per day of oil mixed with colorless, odorless and tasteless toxins can enter a water supply that is the economic and personal lifeblood of Nebraskans. Without detection and without remediation. The oil is laced with toxins that render a standard swimming pool-sized volume of water undrinkable with just one tablespoon!There is so much more to say about the issue in general and the meeting in particular, but one story sticks in my mind.
I was reminded of the scene in the movie "Erin Brockovich" where an official from the polluting agency pointedly turned down the hospitality of a homeowner who offered him a glass of water from her well.
A farmer got up to say the original pipeline route was supposed to cross his land and a pumping station was to be built in his back yard. A couple representatives of the electric company came to his house and offered him a check on the spot for $15,000 if he would sign an easement for their lines. He said, "But the pipeline route is not finalized. What if you don't end up using my property?" They said, "That's okay, you get to keep the money anyway." He said, "But what about the person who can't pay a $100 electric bill from you? You'd turn off their service, wouldn't you? How do you square that with letting me keep $15,000 for nothing?" They replied, "Never mind about that, this is just the way business works."
The experience brought to mind a 2005 anti-war protest march my husband and I joined in Washington DC. One person had a sign that said, "I can't believe we still have to protest this sh*t". It is so frustrating to have to do the job we pay watchdog agencies to do.
Speakers had to sign up, and I was number 156. At 9:30pm they were only on speaker number 56, after 3.5 hours. They were going to end the meeting at midnight no matter what, so I used their (no doubt deliberately) difficult to operate laptops to type up my testimony, and turned it in to be placed on record. I could have gone home and emailed it, but I can be forgiven if I don't trust their process.
We were famished, and on the way out I saw a pipeline supporter setting out a plate of sandwiches in the lobby, probably for other supporters. I steered Cecily over and we swooped in on that. I figured I was doing the supporter a favor by making him useful.
We got back to my house at 11:30pm, after an 8+ hour ordeal. 83-year-old Cecily spent the night rather than driving another hour+ to her home in the dark. From what I understood from talking to others, it was a far longer day for them.
More opposition folks than supporters were still at the meeting when we left, and clearly were staying to the bitter end. I was very encouraged by their tenacity, intelligent and impassioned testimony, the commitment of Bold Nebraska and the Sierra Club, and the courage of many of the speakers who called out everybody from the Koch Brothers to the Tea Party to Big Business to the NDEQ, which is clearly in their pockets.
It was refreshing to see rural Nebraskans, whom I often misjudge as primarily Kool-Aid drinking conservatives, speak out in the way they did against the unnecessary and unjust Keystone XL pipeline. They personified the hypocrisy of a "conservative" (i.e. anti-change!) mantra that purports to support personal freedom, but nonetheless wants to make generations of landowners put their family land at permanent risk for corporate gain. Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed. I was proud of many rural Nebraskans last night.
In case anyone doubts NDEQ's commitment to protecting the environment as their charter requires, here's a photo I took of the one and only trash can by the door of a hall full of hundreds of people. Note the aluminum cans and plastic in the trash. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, a state agency whose individuals are expressly paid to protect our environment, didn't even bother to take the simple act of providing a recycling bin at a large public meeting.
It's almost like they just don't care.
As a Democrat, populist, environmentalist and person of common sense, she should do better than this. And Susan Rice doesn't offer us any hope, does she? Very disappointing. I am so tired of having to watch our side and theirs, too.
I guess we now all have to write Secretary Clinton and Susan Rice and tell them to represent us. I don't care why they think it would be good for foreign policy, domestic policy should trump that.