November 9, 2011
Amazing what a little group of people can do.
Here in Nebraska we (and not some "special interests" environmental group, as the conservatives like to call us), we ordinary citizens have put up a valiant struggle to prevent Transcanada Corporation from ploughing right through our state without more than the resistance of a few extraordinarily heroic individual farmers and ranchers who have refused to be bullied into signing away easements with this dirty oil-carrying giant in the face of harassment and threats.
Put yourself in this position: you are a rancher, for instance, and one day you get notice that Transcanada needs to come onto your ranch to survey for a pipeline that's "coming through." You try to get more information; it's a maze. You contact your state representative--what's going on? Many of them don't answer. There's no state permit, no official state regulations, no laws even about whether or not a foreign corporation has the right to force you to lie down and roll over.
So you tentatively say no. And over the next 3 years you are continually phoned, contacted, mailed, by different "land agents" purporting to represent Transcanada. Some of them say the pipeline has passed the only requirement--an Environmental Impact Statement! You actually get a letter giving you 30 days to sign an easement agreement or they will begin Easement Condemnation processes against you. Your legislator says, "See an attorney." Attorneys cost money. All this costs time and energy. Ranching and farming in Nebraska is sometimes a time-draining and expensive proposition.
Finally you find out where this "pipeline" is coming from, and see that a 36" diameter pipe is to come through 8 miles of your sandhills pastures, pastures of native prairie because that's what holds these sand-dune soils in place. You picture what such construction will mean, and what it will do to even the roads with their own tentative purchase. One rancher testified that the pipeline would mean taking 8 miles of pasture out of production--for maybe 20 years!! Otherwise, cattle herds grazing on the disturbed soil would aggravate erosion, and the line was supposed to go on a NW-SE diagonal: just what the prevailing winter winds do.
Bad plan. But who's going to ask a mere rancher? Who's going to listen? Who's going to answer such a rancher?
I heard one rancher give this solid testimony on Monday, Nov. 7, at a hearing of Nebraska's Natural Resources Committee. With four of the most sneering and hostile state legislators I can imagine in my wildests dreams presiding.
A State Senator Carlson afterwards dragged the rancher through a catechism of questions: Are you an environmentalist? Are you against fossil fuels? Do you believe in Global Warming? In other words, Sen. Carlson implied, the rancher was just pretending to worry about his ranch, his business, his relationship with a huge and hostile foreign company, and the soil and prairie: he was probably masking his true sinister identity as a rabble-rousing special-interest damned Environmentalist. The attitude made it clear that unless you answer all those questions right, you're not a patriot, damn you!
I was shocked at this insolent treatment of a Nebraskan who had taken time off from his work, gone to the trouble and expense of coming for the whole day to Lincoln, had braved the bristling halls and offices of "important people" and dared to report his position, his analysis, his story. I knew there were members of the committee that usually oppose anything like conservation and environmental concerns. Now I think I saw enough to convince me that for at least three of them "natural resources" means "things to be converted into cold cash for you and me and our friends," although I never thought I'd see such open contempt and disrespect in a public setting.