It’s a message not from an alien species, but from opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Last week a crop-art image the size of 80 football fields was installed along the controversial pipeline’s proposed path in Neligh, Nebraska. The image includes the bust of a man in a cowboy hat and an American Indian in a porcupine roach with two feathers. Under the pair of heads is an illustration of water waves and the text, “HEARTLAND #NoKXL.”
The massive art installation, which was executed by artist John Quigley in partnership with the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline Cowboy and Indian Alliance, is meant to tell President Barack Obama to protect the heartland and reject the pipeline, according to Bold Nebraska, a coalition of groups and individuals opposing the project.
Opponents argue that it will contaminate drinking water and pollute the soil. Conversely, proponents state it will bring jobs to the U.S. The project has been controversial from the start, and now that the decision is down to the wire, the opposition is digging in even further.
“Jobs are not worth the risk of the future of our land,” Tessa McLean, Anishinaabe, a member of the Colorado American Indian Movement and an Idle No More activist, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Even if the pipeline is safe, even if it never ever spills, it still takes the rights away from land owners. It goes through Indian country, and we don’t want anything going through our country without [our] consent. And Indians will never consent.”
The section of pipeline that still needs approval would cross the border from Canada, where the viscous bitumen originates in the Alberta oil sands, and cut through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
Ranchers, farmers and Native Americans who live on the pipeline route plan to descend on Washington, D.C. and camp near the White House beginning on April 22, which is Earth Day, to encourage the president’s support, according to the Cowboy and Indian Alliance website. On April 26, thousands of opponents are expected to join the campers and protest the pipeline.
Several camps are already installed along the pipeline route in Indian country. Descendants of the Ponca Tribe erected a camp in Nebraska in November. A second was established on the Rosebud Sioux reservation on March 29, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe opened one on Saturday April 12.
While environmentalists, energy executives and elected officials across North America await the State Department’s critical decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a little-noticed trial scheduled for next month in Nebraska could spell problems for the $5.3 billion project.
A win for the plaintiffs — three Nebraska landowners who oppose the pipeline — would force TransCanada, the company that wants to build the 1,179-mile northern leg of the project, to go through the entire siting process again. Even supporters do not believe that would permanently block the project, but it could add years to the timeline. Appeals through the Nebraska court system could have a similar effect.
“I don’t think [people] realize how Nebraska is a big monkey wrench in all this,” said Brian Jorde, attorney for the three landowners.
But route decisions are left to the states along the way, which gives Nebraska jurisdiction over nearly 200 miles of the proposed project. That might not have been a problem for TransCanada until the state legislature, acting in the final hours of its 2012 session, took authority over review and approval of the route away from the five elected members of the Public Service Commission and instead gave it to Heineman and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The bill, LB 1161, passed by an overwhelming majority.
It also authorized the governor to give TransCanada the power of eminent domain over landholders, a valuable weapon as the company seeks easements from farmers and ranchers to run the pipeline through Nebraska.
“By all appearances, that bill was written by TransCanada. . . . I think at some point in time, ordinary citizens can’t tolerate that kind of behavior,” said Randy Thompson, a small farmer and one of the plaintiffs.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in an e-mail that the company believes the Nebraska law “is constitutional and should be upheld.” The company will continue to plan the pipeline and seek easements, even with the threat of a new route review looming, Howard said.
The plaintiffs argue that, under the Nebraska constitution, the legislature had no authority to transfer route-approval powers from the commission to the governor or to give him the ability to delegate the power of eminent domain to TransCanada. The law also does not provide for judicial review of the governor’s decision, they contend, and is essentially “special legislation” designed to benefit the pipeline company only.
“The suit claims that the PSC has the exclusive jurisdiction” to review the pipeline and set its route, “and the legislature can’t take that power . . . and transfer the right to one person, a partisan person, the governor, to become the trigger for eminent domain,” Jorde said.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jon Bruning declined to comment on the case, but Deputy Attorney General Katherine J. Spohn argued in her brief that the legislature had acted lawfully. Spohn said lawmakers had the legal ability to give Heineman the power to delegate eminent domain authority to TransCanada.
Stacy, the district court judge, has scheduled an hour of arguments in her courtroom and subsequently could take months to rule on the issues, Jorde said. The losing side is expected to appeal as far as the state’s Supreme Court before the issue is finally decided, he said.
“When our legislature steps over the line,” Thompson said, “I think it’s important that ordinary citizens take them to task.”
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer of South Dakota and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had planned for weeks to get together Monday morning to try to address alcohol sales in Whiteclay and alcoholism on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
But the meeting ended after fewer than three minutes, and the governor’s office and Brewer later traded barbs over whose fault that was.
“I feel very bad that I came down here to talk with him for a couple minutes,” Brewer said. “He didn’t want to talk to me.”
The tribal leader said he walked out because Heineman was aggressive and said Brewer violated the governor’s request to meet without media involvement. He said the governor had asked him
to not speak to the media before their meeting.
However, both Brewer and Heineman spoke to reporters in the days and hours leading up to their meeting. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Wang said Brewer was the one who originally had requested a closed meeting with no media present.
“The governor was happy to accommodate that,” she said.
Brewer said the governor was especially angry about a news release that appeared Sunday saying the governor had received $96,000 in contributions from the liquor industry and charged that illegal alcohol activity and bootlegging in Whiteclay have not been stopped because of financial contributions to him and other Nebraska politicians from Anheuser-Busch, distributors and alcohol trade associations.
A spokesman for Alcohol Justice — a California-based, self-described watchdog of the liquor industry — cited the National Institute on Money in State Politics as its source. The institute describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to reveal the influence of campaign money on politicians.
“He verbally attacked me,” Brewer said. “I didn’t write that article. I don’t know why he’s mad at me.”
Wang said the governor has not been influenced by any campaign contributions from liquor industry representatives.
“That’s absolutely false, and it’s completely inappropriate,” she said.
She said the governor had set aside an hour to spend with Brewer and had invited Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. David Sankey, Chief of Staff Larry Bare and the governor’s policy adviser to attend.
Wang said Brewer made it clear he didn’t plan to stay long and have a serious conversation about the problem of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
At a news conference Monday morning before the meeting, Heineman said the state of Nebraska has no legal way to shut down beer stores in Whiteclay as long as those stores follow the law. And, he said, it is Brewer’s responsibility to address the underlying problem that has led to rampant alcohol sales there.
“As the leader of his tribe, he’s got to put a focus on treatment and education relative to alcohol abuse,” Heineman said.
Brewer refused to take responsibility for his people’s actions, Wang said.
“The governor remained at the table and was hopeful to have an open and honest conversation about some of the difficulties surrounding this issue,” Wang said. “I would just call it an unfortunate situation.”
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted last month to hold a reservation-wide referendum this fall on whether to legalize alcohol on the Pine Ridge. Asked whether he supports that, Heineman declined to offer an opinion.
“I think that’s up to them to decide,” he said.
Brewer said he doesn’t want to see his tribe legalize alcohol but that he would do his best to regulate alcohol sales if tribal members vote yes.
He said he met earlier Monday with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who offered to assist the Oglala Sioux Tribe address alcohol sales in Whiteclay.
Brewer said he had hoped to talk to Heineman about re-creating an alcohol-free buffer zone south of the reservation that existed for more than 20 years until 1904. He said he also hoped to discuss making Whiteclay a national historic place to honor a massive sun dance that occurred there decades ago. Such a designation could force the beer stores to close, he said.
“I will continue working with the state of Nebraska,” he said. “I’ll refuse to deal with (Heineman) in the future.”
Brewer said he would like to be able to offer more treatment services to tribal members, but the tribe lacks the funding to do so. It has one treatment center with only seven beds, he said.
“I have to come up with the money somehow,” he said. “Our people are dying up there.”
During a news conference outside the State Office Building by activists after the meeting between Heineman and Brewer, Winnebago activist Frank LaMere said the governor clearly failed to show Brewer the respect he deserved as the leader of a sovereign nation.
“President, I apologize for our Nebraska governor,” he said. “I apologize for the way you were treated today.
“That to me is shameful.”
Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or email@example.com.