Keystone XL Pipeline in Supreme Court, future up in the air


By Hannah Gill, Contributor

Adjunct Professor Larry Bradley was waiting patiently at a meeting of the tribal council to present his dissertation in 2010. On the schedule before him was a meeting with Keystone XL officials requesting permission to construct a pipeline on reservation land; every member of the council voted against the request.
A book based on his dissertation, “Dinosaurs & Indians: Paleontology Resource Dispossession from Sioux Lands” was released Sept. 4, but the Keystone XL Pipeline is still tied up in court.
“The TransCanada officials underestimated the people of Nebraska,” Bradley said.
The Nebraska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Thompson vs. Heineman on Sept. 5. Plaintiffs Randy Thompson, Susan Luebbe and Susan Dunavan are suing Gov. Dave Heineman, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) Patrick Rice and State Treasurer Don Stenberg over LB 1161. Amendments to the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act (MOPSA) allow the NDEQ to review and Heineman to approve proposed pipeline routes through Nebraska.
This allows for an option not including the Public Service Commission (PSC), which MOPSA named to regulate “major oil pipelines” with a diameter greater than six inches, according to the court order filed on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs are claiming these amendments unlawfully delegate power to the governor reserved for the PSC, eminent domain power and unconstitutional spending of state funds on the NDEQ study to evaluate the pipeline, which was paid back by Keystone after its completion.
Bradley served on the Environmental Quality Council from 2006 to 2010 for the standard four-year term as the minority population representative. Born Irish-Mexican American and adopted by the Oglala Lakota, Bradley describes himself as “for all human beings.”
Though Bradley is also for the environment, he did not always find support during his time on the council. Whether dealing with updating coal plants or profit from cap-and-trade carbon points, the council and state leaned toward economic benefits.
“I would be, many times, that lone voice fighting for that environmental issue,” Bradley said.
Bradley, like the plaintiffs, believes Heineman has “usurped authority” by passing the amendments, and the state supreme court should look at the law when making their decision.
“I hope they rule on what the law says,” Bradley said. “The law says the PSC was in charge of this.”
As a scientist and professor, however, Bradley takes a different stance. Since 2010, he has surveyed his large group environmental geology class of 160 students per year about the pipeline.
“Usually, most of it is in favor of not having the pipeline, but there are a number of folks that do,” Bradley said.
Students then have an opportunity to discuss it in class and learn about the science behind the issue. Bradley noticed fewer students supporting the pipeline over time, with 60 percent of students against it this year.
“You have to look down the middle, look at the science,” he said.
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry James Carroll agrees. His specialty in inorganic chemistry gives him a better understanding of the potential danger to the Ogallala Aquifer. Since tar sands produce a thick material that must be heated to flow, he considers spills in the aquifer less damaging than is publicly understood.
“The pipeline could be overbuilt and well-maintained and thus a good way to ship the oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast,” Carroll said. “That would require better oversight than governments usually count on.”
As a former member of the Chemical Institute of Canada, from his graduate work until his retirement last year, Carroll believes development will be fueled by depleted oil reserves in North America.
“The tar sands are going to be developed because Canada needs it.”
Also referred to as oil sands, the energy deposits differ from crude oil in their thickness, extraction and “coal-like character.” In the same way coal releases mercury, the sands release metal impurities when extracted and refined, increasing their contribution to global warming and air pollution. The acidic and impurities also make the oil more corrosive than crude.
While delaying the pipeline may create opportunities for better technology to develop, he thinks it’s “unlikely to affect environmental change.”
“There are legitimate reasons to be for and against the pipeline, and both sides are using the legal tools they have,” Carroll said.
He views the pipeline as an economic and policy decision, which would ultimately allow the oil industry and refineries along the Gulf Coast and Canada to profit.
Other reasons Nebraskans, including Rep. Lee Terry and Heineman, support the pipeline include energy independence for North America and job creation. While Keystone has no obligation to hire Nebraskans, whose experience in pipeline construction is minimal, taxes and spending from temporary construction workers is likely to be profitable for two years during construction.
“I would just have students inform themselves about various things, so they could come to their own conclusion,” Carroll said.
Sophomore Brian Nelsen, music education major, stressed the need to be informed.
“It’s an issue that isn’t major yet, but could be if we don’t find out what is best for our environment and economy and look at our options, rather than build, build, build,” Nelson said.
Freshmen Jamie Wredt and X’zavia Jones, biology majors, sympathized with farmers, who would have to sell their land at market value if it was seized under eminent domain.
“It does feel like the government takes over and doesn’t think about other people involved,” Jones said. “I don’t think we should take all the risk.”
Junior history major Shane Cavlovic is against the pipeline.
“That’s an important aquifer to the whole country and world,” Cavlovic said. “I don’t know if it’s worth jeopardizing it. I’m definitely with the farmers.”
Cavlovic is a self-proclaimed environmentalist and has been known to re-sort trash and recycling bins on campus. If people “voiced a little more concern,” he thinks it could be a unifying issue.
“If you leave it in western Nebraska, Omahans are going to see it as a rural Nebraska problem,” Cavlovic said. “I think this would be a great political victory for Nebraska if they were able to stop it.”
Though the state supreme court decision, unlikely to be released before the November elections, comes down to the constitutionality of amendments, UNO students and professors are more concerned with the benefits to Nebraska.
Since the vote Bradley watched in 2010, the tribal council has not changed its mind about the pipeline. Bradley remains against it in accordance with the Oglala Lakota tribe.
“At some point, you have to follow the will of the people,” Bradley said.