On Saturday, January 10, groups opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline rallied at the White House to urge the administration to stop it after the new Republican-led Congress made getting the pipeline built its first issue of business.
On Thursday, the Senate Energy Committee passed a bill to expedite the construction of the northern leg of the KXL. On Friday, the House passed its version of the bill. The full Senate will begin debating the bill on Monday.
Also on Friday, the Nebraska State Supreme Court ruled against three landowners in the Keystone XL’s path, and upheld the constitutionality of a law which they had challenged.
TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, has been locked in a struggle for five years with indigenous groups, environmentalists and landowners from seven states, including Nebraska and South Dakota. TransCanada has already built the southern leg of the pipeline.
The proposed northern leg of the Keystone XL route would pass over the Ogallala Aquifer, a water table underneath Nebraska, which serves the agricultural water needs of the central US. The pipeline route is planned to also traverse First Nations tribal lands.
Tara Houska, an attorney representing First Nations’ tribal rights said the pipeline threatens Native Americans’ water rights. “Once that water is contaminated, they are completely screwed,” she said.
“Indigenous people have been fighting KXL for years. They have been putting up blockages,” said Houska. Landowners threatened by eminent domain have joined them in the fight.
“We’re here today because our governor has handed over our property rights to the highest bidder,” said Susanne Couskill, a student at American University and Nebraskan from Central City. “One by one, our elected officials have turned their backs on us.”
Environmentalists say it isn’t a question of if but when there would be a pipeline rupture. And when that happens, they say, the Ogallala water aquifer would suffer irreversible damage.
TransCanada is building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport over 830,000 barrels a day of dilbit, a toxic chemical slurry of tar sands being mined in Alberta. It intends to use the pipeline to transport the dibit to Texas for refining and subsequent export.
“We can’t keep having this zombie pipeline come back to life,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of international environmental programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She cited delays and cancellations of tar sands projects in Canada as an impetus to keep fighting against Keystone XL construction, despite the Nebraska Supreme Court ruling. “We are on the verge of seeing this pipeline rejected, and that’s why we will keep fighting.”
“Organized money cannot stop organized people,” said Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, a human rights organization involved in the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline. “We just have to make sure we show them that we are still in charge. Many people don’t realize the power of industry is starting to fall away.”
“Indigenous people have gained a lot of support,” said Houska. “This is gonna continue and escalate if it passes, and I know for a fact there are multiple tribes that have said they’re gonna lay themselves down on the pipeline.”