Editor’s Note: Pres. Obama announced Wednesday that his administration is denying a permit to TransCanada to construct a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline that would carry tar sands from the north to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The White House previously said it had planned to table the decision until after the November elections, but was forced to make a decision earlier under pressure from Congressional Republicans.
In a statement, Obama said: “As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.”
Environmental groups waged a fierce campaign against the Keystone XL, forming alliances with residents in the six states along the proposed pipeline’s route. Nebraskans, in particular, were at the center of the debate, with ranchers, farmers, and rural residents joining forces with environmentalists to avert the contamination of their water supply and land.
New America Media's environment editor Ngoc Nguyen spoke with Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher who has been a leading voice in mobilizing communities against the construction of the Keystone pipeline.
What do you think about the White House’s recent decision?
It’s somewhat astounding to me. The turn of events… what has happened in the last few months. I would give the State Department credit. They came out to Nebraska and all the other states and held hearings. They must have listened to our concerns.
The people of Nebraska came out in full force, filled the hearing rooms, expressed our concerns about this project. They listened to what we had to say. I thank the president… he has listened as well.
Nebraskans have really mobilized against this pipeline. Tell us about the different people who got involved. Would you consider yourselves environmentalists?
It was a very diverse group – I’m in the agricultural, farming, ranching and livestock business all my life. I’m a conservative person. Many other landowners are the same way. We joined forces with Bold Nebraska, which is more of a progressive group. All had a common cause and we all worked side by side. I worked with environment people, and have a new respect for them as they do … for us.
It’s been a tremendous experience for all of us to work together. We all had the common cause -- our state, water supply and natural resources. I’m very proud of our citizens here in Nebraska.
What were your concerns about the pipeline going through your backyard?
I had two major concerns. First of all – I don’t like the idea of a foreign corporation coming into our country and taking land away from U.S. citizens when they are not willing to give up land, a foreign corporation threatening to take your land though the use of eminent domain. If you’re a pipeline company you can take this land even if people don’t want to give it up. Fortunately, that has been changed through a special session [of state legislature].
The second concern is contamination of our water supply in Nebraska. This pipe was going to be buried in the ground, four feet deep on our land. Submerged in our water supply, because our water table is so high that when they bury it four feet, it would be sitting in water. Any kind of a leak would go into our water supply…Several miles of pipeline would be laid in that kind of situation here in Nebraska. We can’t risk our water supply, so oil [companies] can make large profits exporting oil.
Tell us something about yourself and the geology here. We’ve heard a lot about the Sandhills – describe them and what they mean to you as a Nebraskan and a rancher.
My family settled in Northern Kansas way back when my grandfather came out west in a covered wagon. I lived there until I was 6 years old, and then we moved to Nebraska. I’ve been in the livestock business all my life…I’ve been a farmer, rancher and worked in the livestock marketing business. For the last 14 years, I’ve been a cattle buyer. I buy replacement cattle for farmer feeders and feed yards. That’s pretty much what I’ve done all my life. I have six grandchildren, two boys, and I’ve been married for 43 years.
I guess a most accurate description [of the Sandhills], it’s like the surface of the moon with some grass growing on it. There are sand deposits created by glaciers thousands of years ago and they are large sand dunes and over the years, grass established on the Sandhills. That’s another big concern. During the construction phase of the pipeline, they would have to strip off vegetation of an area 110 feet wide. Ranchers have done all kinds of conservation [to keep the grass]. [Without it, the] wind blows sand…[and creates] great big craters…pretty soon you have unusable land.
Were you political before? How would you describe your politics – who do you favor among the GOP presidential candidates?
I’m 64 years old, and I have never spoken with a politician, until three years ago. [I had] absolutely nothing to do with politics, any kind of movements. I was just busy running a business and raising my family. That’s been kind of an eye-opening thing. Getting involved with politicians, seeing the process work, it’s been disappointing to me.
I would say definitely, I guess just frankly I was never an Obama supporter. I did not vote for him, but I think I am going to this time. To me he’s shown some real courage, standing up to big oil companies on this project. So many of our Republicans are puppets for the big corporations…
I’m a little pissed off at Republicans...well just the fact that they want to just ram this pipeline through. I guarantee that if it was coming through their backyard, they would take a different stance on this.
Do you agree with what some, including Republicans, are saying, that killing Keystone means killing jobs?
I look at it this way. Look at the actual estimate done by the State Department. [The pipeline would have] created 4,000-6,000 jobs total. I’m a Republican. [House speaker John] Boehner spouting off about how the project created hundreds of thousands of jobs is absolute nonsense. And in a few months these jobs would be gone. The pipeline would be in the ground and water supply for the rest of my life and my grandchildren’s lives, so, I mean, that’s not a good tradeoff for me.
Do you think this is the last of the Keystone XL pipeline?
The Republicans have made it pretty well known they will do an end-run around the president. [They are] in the process of writing some kind of legislation [to] take that decision away from the president is my understanding…that Congress would actually take that decision back from the president.
It’s disappointing that some of our Nebraskan legislators -- senators and representatives -- were part of the group that wanted to rush the president, to rush this decision forward. We’ll have to keep pressure on those guys to do what is right here.