Interview: Pipeline battle in Nebraska escalates

Art Tanderup signs a deed returning sacred, ancestral tribal land back to the Ponca Tribe on the historic Ponca “Trail of Tears.” Tribes and landowners have been working together in Nebraska to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. [Left to right: Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, Jr., Ponca Nation of Oklahoma Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek, Nebraska landowners Helen and Art Tanderup]

Editor’s note: Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer on the frontlines of the battle to stop construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, to protect the land and Ogallala Aquifer, spoke with Sandy Reid of the People’s Tribune. As we go to print, Art commented on a new development: The Montana ruling [on November 8] against the Trump administration is a victory for the environment, the water, the land, the tribes, the farmers and the ranchers. Laws and procedures must be followed. The Nebraska Supreme Court case still moves forward. These additional delays could very well be the demise of KXL.”

People’s Tribune: Art, last year the Nebraska Public Service Commission rejected Trans Canada’s preferred pipeline route, but agreed to a mainline alternative route. What is going on now?
Art Tanderup: We’ve been fighting this for 10 years, so a lot of landowners have knowledge about what this pipeline represents. Some are no longer involved because of the alternative route, but are still in this battle with us. They know it’s more than a “not in my backyard” deal. TransCanada says they have 50-60% of landowners signed up on the mainline alternative route. Ever since the decision, we’ve been trying to work with landowners along the alternative route, educate them and help them make a decision based on facts rather than on a used car sales pitch. What is interesting is that part of the preferred route in this four-county area that this alternative route will attach to has over 60% of landowners still fighting because of our sandy soil and closeness to the Aquifer.

One thing we’re trying is to use the ballot box, get everyone out to vote for candidates who will reject the pipeline. We have two candidates running for the Public Service Commission. TransCanada put forth a legislator who has taken considerable money from them and who says he will vote for the pipeline. Our candidates say, “No I’m not voting for the pipeline.” We’ve been working with the tribal communities. All the tribes in Nebraska have come together and endorsed candidates this year. I think it’s the first time. So these public service races have become pipeline battles!

We’re going to the Nebraska Supreme Court on November 1. A main issue is that the landowners on the new alternative route have not had due process. We should win that argument. That means TransCanada will have to go back to the Public Service Commission to have the mainline alternative route approved. It’s a seven-month process with public input. So we’re hoping we can get one elected, and if the two we currently have remain, we’d have the three votes needed to reject the whole pipeline.

We held an event in Lincoln when the US State Department came for their “public hearing” on the environmental impact study for the mainline alternative route. It was a sham. It stifled our freedom of speech and right to be heard. I asked someone who was supposed to know something: do you want to risk polluting that aquifer? And, if there’s a spill, will it be cleaned up immediately? He said, “Well, that all depends on the type of oil spill it is.” In 2017, in Freeman, SD, they discovered a pinhole leak on the underside of the pipe. That tiny leak forced chemicals and sludge through the hole. It took years to surface. Had that happened on our farm, those chemicals would be in the aquifer polluting our water.

We held a press conference in the middle of the hearing room, walked out, went across the street, and wrote postcards for our candidates.

We recently held a 5th harvest of Ponca Sacred Corn, another success. This is the first time Ponca corn belongs to the Ponca Nation; we gifted them land last spring.

So there’s lots going on. We’re working hard to get this thing stopped—and we think we can.

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