A big (although far from final) hurdle to the Keystone XL Pipeline was removed a few days ago when Nebraska’s Governor Dave Heineman gave the green light to TransCanada’s pipeline plans through his state:
Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska approved a revised route for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska on Tuesday, brushing aside vocal opposition from some citizen groups and putting final approval of the pipeline project squarely in the hands of the Obama administration.
The decision came a day after President Obama made an assertive pledge in his inaugural address to tackle climate change in his second term. Opponents of the pipeline, which would bring heavy crude oil from tar sands formations in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast, say that its extraction and consumption will significantly worsen global warming and that Mr. Obama’s decision will be a test of his intentions.
Governor Heineman, a Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that his state’s review found that the new route avoided sensitive lands and aquifers. Mr. Obama had rejected the previous route last January on the grounds that construction of the pipeline threatened Nebraska’s Sand Hills region and that a spill could contaminate the critical Ogallala Aquifer.
The Ogallala (named, appropriately enough, for the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge) Aquifer provides about 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S., underlying more than a quarter of the country’s irrigated land. So contamination could be catastrophic for agriculture in this region.
That’s not the only threat that Gov. Heineman appears to have disregarded. And though the revised route manages to skirt some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the Nebraska Sand Hills, you’ll notice the pipeline still runs smack-dab through South Dakota, including some environmentally sensitive wildlife habitats. According to a report from the National Wildlife Federation:
Shortgrass prairie regions [in SD], through which the pipeline passes, are important for the Mountain Plover—a rare species that has been proposed for listing as an Endangered Species… [Moreover,] the pipeline route tracks the Central and Mississippi Flyways, and cuts through prairie potholes which are critically important nesting and migratory staging areas for many ducks, including pintails and mallards. Construction of the pipeline would significantly disturb these areas; spills and leaks would contaminate their feeding and nesting habitats.
The same report explains how, even as the pipeline threatens habitat in South Dakota, it ravages the landscape of Alberta, turning a once-pristine arboreal forest into something straight out of The Lord of the Rings – Mordor, specifically. And we’re not even talking about the huge carbon emissions that come with a) extracting tar sands oil, known as diluted bitumen or “Dilbit” and b) transporting it over huge distances in pipelines designed, not for volatile Dilbit, but conventional crudes. As environmental scientist James Hansen puts it, tar sands oil, and the pipelines like KXL that transport it, may well be “game over” for the climate.
If the state of Nebraska isn’t going to stand in the way of this pipeline, however, the indigenous peoples who have lived here for millennia – and whose rights and interests have been as systematically ignored as the Mountain Plover’s – will. Over the past three days at the Fort Randall Casino near Wagner, SD, tribes from across the continent have been meeting to reaffirm their treaty rights in an unprecedented Gathering to Protect the Sacred. Spearheaded by the Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux), Ponca and Pawnee Nations on the 150th anniversary of the 1863 Treaty between the Pawnee Nation and the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the goal of the gathering is to reaffirm that treaty and to sign a new one in opposition to KXL:
The new treaty will build on the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Save the Fraser Declaration and the 16 Principles for Building a Sustainable and Harmonious World, the latter of which Lane was a part of creating. The treaty will also aim to protect specific water sources such as the Ogallala aquifer, which runs beneath the Great Plains region of the US.
The draft treaty will be discussed with the leaders and a legal team before nations sign in. Conference organizers extended an invitation to President Obama to send a representative to the gathering by so far have received no response.
Echoing the sentiments of the Idle No More movement, Lane said this is ultimately about uniting the whole of the human family and recognizing that protecting the land and the water is the responsibility of all peoples.
“We’re binding together to protect one another from the tar sands project across the United States and Canada. The violation of the sovereignty of one nation in Canada is the violation of all our sovereignty across the United States,” he said.
You probably haven’t heard much about this historic event from the local media – when has the dominant white culture ever paid attention to our Native neighbors? I had to go to the Vancouver Observer to find coverage of the Gathering. But rest assured, this is big.
The President of the SD Peace & Justice Center, Rosalie Little Thunder, attended the gathering, and we will have more details in coming days. For now though, the question must be asked: who is President Obama going to listen to?
After all, the power to approve this pipeline is in hands – and so too is the power to stop it. Will he side with Dave Heineman and TransCanada? Or will he break the pattern of American history and finally listen to the indigenous peoples of this continent? Will he listen to the tens of thousands who are expected to attend the Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C. over President’s Day weekend?
He and we can no longer afford not to take sides. Let us hope our grandchildren can look back and say we took the right side for their futures.