Someone must stand up to Big Oil

Today, I will stand in front of the Nebraska Supreme Court to block the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. In doing so, I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a powerful new coalition of activists and landowners that I believe has the potential to fundamentally realign American politics.

Someone has to stand up to Big Oil and its kind. I am. So are three Nebraskans who gave their names as plaintiffs to our efforts. It isn’t just the pipeline that moves us; it’s also the tactics of corporate bullies. You see, there are at least two different categories of arguments against the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Environment

The first argument is perhaps the most familiar to DailyKos readers. The pipeline is an environmental disaster in the making. The pipeline will transport some of the dirtiest materials that big oil has managed to pull out of the ground – Alberta “tarsands” oil – from remote Canadian refineries to processors on the Texas coast.

At a moment at which we all should be doing everything we can to limit carbon production and slow climate change, making it easier to extract oil that releases nearly 20% more emissions than petroleum from other sources is crazy. And the idea of sending that dirty foreign oil in leaky pipelines across one of our nation’s largest remaining fresh water reserves – the Nebraska aquifer – is foolish. It’s time to cut our dependence on petro-chemicals and pivot to renewable energy.


Pushy Big Oil

But the second argument against Keystone XL is also important. The pipeline – like many of the projects that Big Oil is attempting to undertake across the US – is an effort by a tight-knit collection of large, monopolistic, multinational corporations to trample the rights of American citizens and enrich themselves.

Let me tell you a little about the case the Nebraska Supreme Court will hear today. For me it all started five years ago with a phone call from a rancher in north central Nebraska. He told me a foreign oil company man had just been at his place saying that unless he signed an easement for a new pipeline, he’d be taken to court.

Soon I learned of other similar visits and of certified letters making similar threats. It took some digging to figure out who TransCanada was and what they had in mind. The company is not given to full disclosure!

Nebraska had no law for crude oil pipeline routes to be evaluated or approved. The Nebraska State Legislature held a special session on the problem.  I wrote a comprehensive “Green Paper” to help its efforts to establish a fair review process. The Legislature’s special session decided to respect the State Constitution, and let the courts settle eminent domain disputes and our Public Service Commission consider permits and routes. Big Oil didn’t like this; it meant citizen involvement and kept out cronyism.

In a few months the Legislature met in general session and peculiar things happened. A benign bill went through hearings. But once it got to the Legislature’s floor, it was gutted, amended and passed without hearings and with nearly no debate. The new law bypassed the PSC and let the Governor — a career Pol — do the work of Big Oil.

Citizens Matter

My clients and I sued to declare the replacement law invalid. Our argument is basic. This law – LB 1161 – is plainly unconstitutional. It tramples Nebraskans’ right to fair and impartial PSC and judicial review in favor of a corrupt political process.   LB 1161 allows oil companies to take land and build pipelines wherever they please, as long as a political crony backs their plan.

Now, this sort of corporate power grab is everywhere: big banks with puny settlements and no prosecutions; big food processor and communications companies making big mergers; big oil. As a result, our the nation is in debt, our jobs are moving abroad, campaigns for federal office are greased with dark money, wages are too low, the rich skirt their taxes, and wealth is more concentrated than at any time since the late 1920s.

What is happening with KXL is the same thing that led to the housing bust; “too big to fail” and Wall Street bail-outs; and corporate tax inversions. Now that the Supreme Court has decided that corporations have the same right as people, big business is taking over. The results aren’t pretty.

Good News

That’s the bad news. But there’s good news, too. Ours is still a nation of laws – as long as we are brave enough to demand their enforcement! And some of “we the people” do exercise our rights in court and at the ballot box. It is ever more important for all of us to do so.

The forces of kleptocracy are rich and powerful; but when we act as citizens with a common cause, we beat them. That’s what’s happening in Nebraska, where two groups with historically different interests – environmentalists and farmers – banded together against Big Oil.

This fight in Nebraska is a crucial step toward reclaiming our country for its citizens. For my part, after I finish in the State Supreme Court today, I will return to my effort to win Nebraska’s open seat in the United States Senate. The battle ahead of us is long, but we can win. Will you join us?