Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The impact of rural lack of anonymity on environmental (in)justice controversies

That was one of my takeaways from this NPR story about the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy in Nebraska.  Melissa Block describes and quotes several residents of York County, Nebraska, population      13,883, some pro-pipeline, some against.
[A]s loud as the Keystone debate has been in Washington, D.C., and in the courts, Jenni Harrington says it's talked about in hushed tones in Nebraska's blustery York County, about an hour from the capital, Lincoln.
Harrington has deep roots in York County, where the Keystone KL pipeline would cross her family's land.  Harrington lives on the farm her great-great grandfather homesteaded in the 1860s.  Block quotes Harrington, who runs a nursery. 
When somebody wants to talk about it when they come into the nursery, they come behind the counter and kind of whisper in my ear and say, 'What's going on with the pipeline?' 
* * *  
We've been taught that it's our job to take care of the land. If we don't take care of our natural resources, life on this planet is gonna be a short time.
Harrington's family built a small barn, the so-called energy barn, which sits by the side of road.  It's made of native ponderosa pine and topped with solar panels, a windmill spinning out front.  The point is to draw attention to clean energy as an alternative to the Tar Sands and the Keystone XL that would transport the crude.

Block's story also features Chuck and Miriam Peterson, who support the pipeline.  The Petersons, too, are long connected to the land; Chuck's great-great grandparents also came here in the late 1800s.  The proposed pipeline would not cross the Petersons' land, but it would run just about a mile away.  Though the are strongly pro-pipeline, Miriam says they try not to talk too much about it:
A small community, often you're a little careful because you don't want to break any relationships either over that.  …  I'm appreciative of people wanting to conserve things and be careful with the resources we have.  But as often happens with any kind of a controversy, there's so much misinformation on both sides, and they don't listen to each other.
That's small-town lack of anonymity for you.  

The last quote that I find especially interesting in this story is from Bill Dunavan.  Along with his wife Susan, he feels he has been bullied by TransCanada into granting a lease for the pipeline across their 80 acres.  But the Dunavans are part of a small, well organized minority of land owners who are resisting.  Here's  Bill Dunavan's depressing quote:  
It would emphasize the fact that we're probably not only flyover country, but we're 'burrow-under country,' with no regard to the people that live here.
It reminds me of this blog post from a student writer a few years ago, and this one by me in 2011 about the pipeline's path being through "places of low consequence."  I'm afraid there is more than a smidgen of truth to it.

But back to the issue of how local pipeline politics have played out, Block writes:
As divisive as the fight over the pipeline has been, it has also built community. For years, the Dunavans thought they were the only ones against the project. Now, they've found allies among their neighbors.
Susan Dunavan makes the point thusly:  
We all believe that our land is sacred, our water is sacred.  We don't want a quick monetary, economic ... 'fix.' Let's look at the big picture. The big picture is like, forever. I want to pass this on to the next generations.
It's a laudable sentiment, and one I hope the federal government will respect.


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