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Tragedy of Keystone XL pipeline debacle is the loss of local sovereignty PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 04 November 2011 18:06

In trying to dissect and comprehend the theater that is the current Keystone XL controversy, I’m wondering whether to characterize its genre as comedy, tragedy, or farce; it contains elements of all three, but one must prevail.

It’s comical, for instance, to view the special legislative session as anything but a political move designed exclusively for CYA, but that’s the only way this “development” project could be considered funny.

Similarly, TransCanada’s faux concern for presumed accrual of economic benefits, as Charlie Litton and the Nebraska News Service ably demonstrated in last week’s Breeze posting, reveals the farcical nature of the Keystone XL escapade.

But that the Keystone XL project will end up as surefire tragedy for Nebraskans is a stone-cold, lead-pipe lock.

Of course the pipeline will ultimately fail with the fragile Nebraska landscape bearing the brunt of that failure, it might happen in months, it might happen in decades, but it will happen, and the actual cost then will be much greater than however much of the $4 billion in annual profits accumulates in the pockets of producers, transporters, and investors, who by then will have made themselves invisible or invulnerable anyway.

The real tragedy in this scenario, though, is the further undermining of community sovereignty by industrial investors — those financial overseers located everywhere else but here.

Only a few years back, with the wind-energy frenzy providing the fuel for industrial deception of magnitude comparable to TranCanada and its Albertan tar sands pipe, I found myself an insider in the construction of a private transmission line designed to move the wind-generated electricity of central Texas southeastward.

The procedure for building such a massive piece of linear infrastructure is dubious because it is highly secretive and frenetically paced.

The idea is to get the land easements bought and paid for before affected communities, and other landowners who will bid up the price, hear about it.

Individual landowners are picked-off one by one with visions of money-for-nothing. When communities find out they WILL organize in opposition, but if easements are in place prior to organizing, then opposition can be more easily withstood given our public institutional reluctance to overturn after-the-fact contracts made in private.

So, in effect, the public voice and capacity is co-opted by keeping the land transactions anything but transparent.

Landowners (not all but enough) want the money; communities, though, favor security and stability, both of which are expensive, and to neither does the transporter care to contribute.

At root this type of “development” reveals a moral corporate deficiency.

The Church, for example, discourages deception as a basis for transacting business, but our public “protectors” (courts, legislatures, executives, bureaucracies, etc.), who refuse anyway to act until its too late, can conveniently claim a legal “separation” from such a traditional moral prescription, and so legitimize their own inactivity and lack of moral fiber to do what’s right before-the-fact.

The other tragedy, inherent in this kind of shady corporate development, is that it will soon repeat itself.

The soil has been mined and its profits investor-extracted long ago, as the tar sands are being mined and investor-extracted now, and as the Nebraska’s groundwater will soon be mined and investor-extracted as well. The same Breeze issue that printed Charlie Litton’s expose, also headlined the continued decline in school enrollment. But until the community is, in the interest of fairness and transparency, forced to be considered from the beginning in these types of Keystone XL-like “developments,” enrollments will continue to dwindle because there will be little reason for rural Nebraska stewards, having lost all local authority, to remain long-term.

Thus, the land will suffer...and that is a tragedy of global consequence.


Dr. James Knotwell, Lincoln

Wauneta Resident in Spirit