An alliance of cowboys and Indians, complete with an encampment of tepees and a horseback protest, have taken to the nation’s capital to stand in opposition to the proposed Keystone oil pipeline.
In this episode of “Top Line,” we visit the tepee encampment that has become a week-long fixture on the National Mall in D.C. to talk to prominent Nebraska anti-Keystone pipeline activist Jane Kleeb, who is leading the effort and has been dubbed the “Keystone Killer” by Rolling Stone Magazine.
“Farmers and ranchers have joined tribal communities as well as in first nations in Canada in order to say we don’t want this pipeline risking our property rights and our water,” said Bold Nebraska executive director Jane Kleeb. “Tribes want to pass down the water and land to future lands just like our farmers and ranchers do, and the Keystone XL risks all of that.”
The proposed TransCanada pipeline, which would carve a path through the United States to help connect a reserve of tar sands oil in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for export, crosses through miles of private land in several states along the way. That’s why, Kleeb said, the alliance that extends beyond the traditional environmental community has “drawn a line in the sand.”
“It’s the folks on the ground that would face the immediate risk of what a tar sands spill means to their livelihood, that’s who’s on the front lines of this fight,” Kleeb said.
While Kleeb’s group is calling for the United States to diversify our energy sources to more renewable alternatives and decrease oil dependence, she said this is not an environmentalist’s battle; it is about protecting Nebraska’s land and water from the potential risk of a tar sands oil spill.
“We literally have no scientific plan to clean up a tar sands spill when it gets in our water,” Kleeb said. “This pipeline, just in Nebraska alone, crosses over 2,000 family wells. Can you imagine almost a million barrel tar sands pipeline, if that bursts, a worst-case scenario and benzene gets into our water?”
“We are screwed as farmers and ranchers, and so that’s why the risk is so high for us and why we think the president will eventually reject this pipeline,” said Kleeb, adding that she believes Obama thinks the pipeline is “the bad path for America.”
The State Department recently announced an extension to the review period for the pipeline, citing ongoing litigation over the disputed route of the pipeline through Nebraska as the reason for the delay. And while critics of the Obama administration’s decision have cried foul over the delay as an unnecessary act of feet dragging, Kleeb praised the president’s move as “responsible.”
“The president has been very clear from the beginning that he wanted the legal process to play out,” Kleeb said. “We have a process in Nebraska. Landowners stood up to Gov. Heineman, a Republican governor, who essentially gave TransCanada a sweetheart deal and violated our state constitution. We’re now battling in the Supreme Court, we’re confident we’re going to win.”
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll reveals that a clear majority of Americans – 65 percent –support the construction of the pipeline. But Kleeb believes that number is skewed because Americans don’t understand all the potential negative ramifications of the proposed pipeline.
“In America, we think oil will help lessen gas prices and we assume that pipelines are safe. As a mom, I assumed that before fighting this pipeline,” Kleeb said. “We … should not risk our livelihoods and our water so a foreign tar sands corporation can get their product to the export market. This is not a pipeline for America. This is a pipeline through America so they can get it to the export market.”
To hear what Kleeb has to say to members of Congress, like Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who are pushing for the pipeline’s approval, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC News’ Richard Coolidge, Tom Thornton, Hank Brown, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.