Monthly Archives: January 2015

Elected Officials Push for KXL Pipeline Construction

By Vi Waln
Sicangu Scribe

January 10, 2015–The intent of elected officials to fast track the construction of the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline was made apparent this week after votes were cast in South Dakota, Nebraska and on Capitol Hill.

First, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SD PUC) voted unanimously to deny a motion to dismiss filed against TransCanada by the Yankton Sioux Tribe. The SD PUC listened to oral testimony by several intervening parties regarding the motion to dismiss. Their final conclusion was TransCanada’s petition doesn’t “demonstrate that the Project no longer meets the permit conditions,” which was the basis for Yankton’s motion to dismiss.

Thomasina Real Bird, General Counsel representing Yankton, thanked the other Tribes and organizations for their support in the motion to dismiss. “We look forward to participating in this case as it moves forward with that unified approach,” she stated in a press release issued by the Tribe.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe initially filed for the dismissal of TransCanada’s motion to limit discovery in their application for re-certification of the expired permit for the KXL pipeline. Yankton was joined by the Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes in the motion to dismiss. Dakota Rural Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Rosebud’s Tribal Utility Commission and the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy also joined Yankton in the action to dismiss.

“Ihanktonwan appreciated the powerful coalition that came together to stand against the human rights violations and the concocted processes. It is clear that the Commission is walking in unfamiliar territory,” stated Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktonwan Treaty Chair.

Then, in one of their first official actions of 2015, the US House of Representatives approved H.R. 3—Keystone XL Pipeline Act, by a vote of 266-153 late last week. The bill would fast-track the construction of controversial pipeline. The legislation now moves to the Senate for their approval.

“Why is this bill so urgent? The answer is money. Money and power,” stated Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “The pipeline might not do much for the American people, but it is worth a whole lot to the Canadian oil industry. Since 2009 TransCanada has spent almost seven million dollars in lobbying expenses related to Keystone. And now TransCanada wants what they paid for.”

“Who does this new Republican Congress work for, foreign oil companies or the American people?” Senator Warren asked. “Today, their first priority is to advance a pipeline that means a whole lot to an army of well-paid lobbyists and a whole lot to a giant foreign oil company. I didn’t come here to do favors for TransCanada. I’ll be voting no on this.”

The White House also issued a statement last week which read in part:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3 [Keystone XL Pipeline Act], which would immediately authorize the construction, connection, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline . . . Because H.R. 3 conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the President and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests (including serious security, safety, environment, and other ramifications), if presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.

In addition, the Nebraska Supreme Court Justices allowed a ruling by the Lancaster County District Court to stand when they did not get a majority vote to overturn the lower Court’s decision. Four of the seven justices were in agreement with the argument posed by three landowners who contended that Legislative Bill 1161, which was passed in 2012 and gave the governor authority to approve a pipeline route through Nebraska, was unconstitutional. The ruling needed five votes in order to be overturned.

“While the outcome may not be what we had hoped for, I believe we have successfully sent the message that Nebraska citizens are willing to stand up and fight back against the politically corrupting influence of rich and powerful corporations,” stated landowner plaintiff Randy Thompson in a press release issued by Bold Nebraska. “Even if LB 1161 has been found to be technically legal, it still does not make it right, and the passage of this legislation represents a gross injustice to many hardworking Nebraska families.”

“Despite [the Nebraska Supreme Court] ruling, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will maintain its steadfast commitment to opposing TransCanada, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the wholesale destruction of Unci Maka that the Alberta tar sands mining represents,” stated Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott in a press release. “We will continue to fight our case and make sure that our voices are heard in front of the [SD PUC], as TransCanada cannot start construction of this black snake that our ancestors warned us of so many years ago until the case before the [SD PUC] is resolved.”

Guns A Blazing

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SD PUC) is composed of three members—Chairman Gary Hanson, Vice-Chairman Chris Nelson and Commissioner Kristie Fiegen— all elected by the registered voters.

Voters put elected officials on every level into their positions to serve the public. These are people just like you and I who are elected as public servants. We put our trust in their ability to make decisions on our behalf. We expect them to work for the best interests of South Dakota and all of us who live here.

Currently, the SD PUC is charged with oversight of the recertification process for the permit which will allow TransCanada to construct their Keystone XL pipeline through our state. In October 2014, the PUC granted party status as interveners for forty two applicants.

I did listen to the live broadcast of the December 9, 2014 meeting. The following verbatim remarks were made by Chairman Hanson after he listened to some attorneys and interveners talk about how they believed more time was needed to prepare their cases.

“My fellow commissioners may have a different opinion. My thought on that is that we certainly want to make certain that everyone has an opportunity to participate fully. Also, though, for the past two years we have been reading about the potential for this hearing to take place. It’s not a surprise by any means. And I am, as Chairman, not going to slow up this process on a basis that gee whiz we don’t have enough time to take a look at some of this information. The fact is that numerous folks who are parties to this have stated in the media that they’re going to come with—obviously didn’t say this, but—guns a blazing. They’re going to be prepared, they’re going to have everything ready to go and now after at least a year and a half of hearing that we’re all ready to go, we’ve got lots of things we’re going to present—I’m not going to allow people to slow up this process just for the purpose of slowing it up. There has to be good reasons and good presentations to convince me that, there’s nothing [that’s] a surprise that this is come about and having heard repeatedly that parties are ready to go, it really surprises me now to hear that we need time to look at these things. I’m not going to listen to responses from that right now, I’ve heard the presentations . . . I stand by my statement and I think everyone fully has seen in the news media, statements by parties stating that they are ready to go. This is not new, this is not a surprise to anyone.”

The Keystone XL pipeline will affect all of us if it is built. The construction of this pipeline will change South Dakota forever. South Dakota’s PUC must show patience to the public they serve. As a public servants they must refrain from scolding interveners or accusing them of saying things they didn’t actually say.