Saturday, November 7, 2015

Environmentalists' victory lap over Keystone XL Pipeline fails to acknowledge rural angle, protests

President Obama announced yesterday the rejection of the 1,179 mile Keystone XL pipeline, the wildly controversial "bit" of infrastructure that would would have snaked from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf coast, giving Canadian oil access to refineries there.  Read the NPR coverage here and the New York Times coverage here.  The NYT lede is here:
President Obamaannounced on Friday that he had rejected the request from a Canadian company to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending a seven-year review that had become a symbol of the debate over his climate policies.
One of my favorite quotes from Obama's speech follows:
It has become a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” he said. “And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.
The NYT story quotes Bill McKibben, founder of, an environmental activist group which campaigned against the pipeline:
President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate. That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight.
What is striking to me is that neither of these stories makes any mention of the enormous grassroots effort against the pipeline, a grassroots effort by farmers and other landowners, primarily in Nebraska, where the pipeline would have threatened the Oglala Aquifer.  I have covered that activism extensively on Legal Ruralism, including here, here and here.  Further, the New York Times has covered that activism, including in a major story in the New York Times Magazine las year and also in the 2013 op-ed here.  


Daniel Quinley said...

I wonder to what extent the lack of coverage of the rural opposition to this reflects the inherent urban nature of the environmental movement. The national political debate has focused on the big issues: namely the pro-pipeline job creation argument and the anti-pipeline "more fossil fuels are bad" argument. What often gets ignored in this type of debate is the localized impacts, particularly on the environmental issues. Not to discount the impact increased fossil fuel use has on climate change; the immediate impacts of the pipeline are significant. Landowners would be dispossessed, the construction of the pipe would destroy local habitats and alter the nature of the land, and once the pipeline is in operation, there would be the impacts of ongoing maintenance.

The media's, (not necessarily willful) ignorance of the importance of these local and rural impacts should be surprising. But it isn't. Unless the issues are particularly egregious, sensationalist, or impact the urban centers in some way, we simply don't know about the issues that plague rural America.

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