Rep. Kristi Noem says she is "thrilled to put Keystone XL pipeline legislation on the President's desk." She apparently is just as thrilled to put a dangerous and unnecessary pipeline on South Dakota farmers' and ranchers' land via eminent domain.

But her new colleague in the opposite chamber, Senator Mike Rounds, makes a comment about the creation of that Keystone XL bill that should chill our lone Congresswoman's thrill:

The Keystone debate was positive because there was a free flow of ideas, but there wasn’t always time to look into amendments carefully before voting on them, Rounds said [James Arkin, "How Being Governor Did (and Didn't) Prepare Mike Rounds for Senate," Real Clear Politics, 2015.02.09].

Senator Rounds suggests the Republican leadership was so hell-bent on passing this Keystone XL bill that they couldn't pause enough to allow their members to read and study the issue in full. And Congresswoman Noem is thrilled to pester the President with an ill-informed bill to usurp executive authority and approve a pipeline whose policy significance, amidst falling oil prices and growing job numbers, "comes close to nil.'

Mr. President, please do not hesitate to veto the Keystone XL bill.

27 comments

Oh look: free breakfast and baloney from oil industry shills:

Consumer Group to host South Dakota Pipeline Safety Breakfast

Industry experts to converge in Pierre, South Dakota to discuss critical safety issues surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline

Pierre, SDConsumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an organization that advocates for energy consumers, will host a briefing to inform South Dakota legislators and staff about important pipeline safety issues surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. CT. Breakfast will be provided for attendees.

  • What: South Dakota Pipeline Safety Breakfast hosted by CEA
  • When: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 from 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. CT
  • Where: South Dakota Education Association Auditorium, 411 East Capitol Avenue, Pierre, South Dakota
  • Who: Moderator: Michael Whatley, CEA Executive Vice President; Brigham McCown, former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA); Andrew Black, President and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines
  • RSVP: Credentialed media should RSVP to Kristin Marcell at kristin@smartmarkusa.com or 215-504-4272.

Credentialed media—in other words, no bloggers or other amateurs allowed. (Say, where does one get an official journalist's license in South Dakota, anyway?)

The Consumer Energy Alliance is a front group for tar sands oil companies. The "moderator" for the January 27 Pierre event, Washington D.C. Lobbyist Michael Whatley, created the CEA to wage an astroturfy public-relations campaign against clean-fuel standards. Whatley has used CEA to create what his own e-mails call an "Echo Chamber" of industry press releases to promote Keystone XL since fall 2011. Brigham McCown is a Bush recount lawyer who got his PHMSA gig through cronyism, not pipeline safety expertise. Andrew Black's job is to lobby for pipelines on behalf of his organization's members, which include Keystone XL builder TransCanada. His degree is in economics and his experience is in media relations and politics, not engineering.

But hey, they're serving breakfast. Mmmm.

Update 07:43 CDT: If Whatley really wants to "moderate" a discussion, he should invite energy consumer Rick Weiland to expand on the thesis he offers in Sunday's Sioux Falls paper that Keystone XL simply feeds oil-industry greed.

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Keystone XL wouldn't be such a bad project if pipeline builder TransCanada could assure us that it would pay for cleaning up whatever messes the pipeline might make if it spills tar sands oil in our fair state. Oil companies provide us that assurance by paying an eight-cents-per-barrel excise tax on the oil they ship into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. (One barrel produces 19 gallons of gasoline, among other products, so that tax adds far less than a penny to the price you pay at Kum & Go.)

But not TransCanada, not on Keystone XL. Back in 2011, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that tar sands oil imported into the U.S. is exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax, because it's "synthetic petroleum," not "oil."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) tried last week to amend the Keystone XL bill to require TransCanada to pay that cleanup tax on the tar sands oil it seeks to ship across South Dakota:

If you break it, you buy it, and if you spill oil over the heartland of America, you should pay for its cleanup. In recent years, we have witnessed major pipeline breaks in Michigan, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota, spewing oil in these communities. Instead of getting a $24 million-a-year tax break not afforded to other pipeline companies, TransCanada should be held responsible if they put America’s environment and the health of American citizens at risk [Rep. John Garamendi, floor statement, 2015.01.09].

Rep. Garamendi is talking basic responsibility. But if I'm reading the roll calls right, his amendment, rolled into a motion to recommit, failed on a straight party-line vote, with every Republican in the room, including our Rep. Kristi Noem, saying that making TransCanada pay for its messes is too much responsibility for our corporate Canadian friends to bear.

Hmm... I wonder if Congresswoman Noem picks up all of her son's dirty socks for him every weekend when she comes home from Washington.

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The Washington Post editorial board says opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are all exaggerating:

Despite what you might have heard, the pipeline wouldn’t kill the planet, nor would it supercharge the economy. You don’t have to take our word for either assertion: The State Department has said so; nonpartisan energy experts have said so; The Post’s Fact Checker has said so. Keystone XL should have been treated like a routine infrastructure project from the beginning of the permitting process — six years ago. Instead, the issue has been blown far out of proportion ["Return the Keystone XL Issue to Reality," Washington Post, 2015.01.11].

I agree with WaPo's dismissal of both the climate-change and economic arguments, but they oversimplify the problem. I've never beat the drum on the climate-change impact of the pipeline, because (a) I agree that blocking this single pipeline won't stop oil companies from mining the Canadian tar sands, (b) I know that here in South Dakota, concern about climate change won't get me any traction in a policy debate, and (c) there's a whole tub of other reasons to oppose the pipeline.

The WaPo editorial mentions the argument that all the Keystone XL oil will go to China and elsewhere. They dismiss that argument, saying the oil goes to U.S. Gulf refineries and that at least half of the oil currently refined at the Gulf stays in the U.S. WaPo seems impervious to changing economic facts, like decreasing U.S. demand and the business case enunciated by TransCanada itself, that make clear that this additional tar sands oil is destined for overseas consumption and will not affect U.S. energy independence one whit.

The WaPo editorial entirely ignores the other valid concerns Americans along the pipeline route have raised. Landowners on the Great Plains are being forced through eminent domain to bear the costs of disruption to their agricultural operations and future land-use plans. We are being forced to accept avoidable risk to the vital Ogallala Aquifer. We are being forced to facilitate the ongoing addiction to every dirtier fossil fuels. And we are being sold this pipeline on a steady series of Big Oil exaggerations and lies.

Sure, Keystone XL won't single-handedly destroy the planet. But it does other harm through eminent domain and unnecessary environmental risk, and it fails to deliver the advantages its backers have promises. When we're having a policy debate, it's not enough to prove that one harm won't happen. You have to prove benefits will happen and that other harms will not outweigh. Keystone XL fails that test.

14 comments

Yesterday Rep. Kristi Noem and the U.S. House voted for the tenth time to usurp executive authority and force immediate federal approval of the Canadian tar sands pipeline and eminent domain land grab known as Keystone XL.

Rep. Noem retreads this excuse for her vote:

Delaying Keystone is depriving South Dakota of good jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for cash-strapped counties, and relief for the roads and rails that are currently crowded with oil transit. Moreover, the White House has released more than 20,000 pages of reviews showing Keystone is in the best interest of our environment and our national economy – even admitting in a State Department report that the pipeline would support approximately 42,100 jobs.

In the time that it’s taken to approve Keystone, 10,000 miles of pipeline have been laid in the U.S. – that’s equal to eight Keystone XL Pipelines. We’ve debated Keystone long enough; now is the time to build it [Rep. Kristi Noem, e-mail to supporters, 2015.01.09].

Rick Weiland says Rep. Noem and the House are confused by Big Oil and Big Money:

There isn’t a more egregious example of the stranglehold that ‘big money’ has on our Congress and elected officials than this effort to build the Keystone pipeline.

As I stated throughout my campaign for the United States Senate, this is all about greed -- billions of dollars of it every year.

Early on, the perpetrators of this con, TransCanada, a foreign oil corporation and their ‘big money’ investors, boasted about creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and making America more energy secure. They began their ‘big money’ television campaign and commenced convincing the people of South Dakota and around the country that this was a good thing.

In fact, during the last weeks of the campaign, there was a ‘big money’ effort to tie the rail car shortage and grain problem South Dakota is experiencing, as another reason to build Keystone. The lie was if you build the pipeline, it would move oil so that the rail system would be freed up to move grain.

Fact is, there are no real jobs -- thirty-five permanent jobs according to the GAO and another 1800 temporary jobs for the entire project.

Fact is, Keystone XL is an export pipeline. Most of the oil is moving from the tar sands of Canada to the state of Texas for export to China. We get very little of the oil, so where is the ‘energy security’? We are nothing more than a pass through, taking on the risk for no reward.

With regard to relieving the problem of the inability of our railway system to ship grain, fact is, the oil coming out of the Bakken fields in ND, not Canada, ties up the rail system. These producers have very little interest in using Keystone. They want the flexibility to move their product by rail and truck to markets here in the United States.

In fact, I cannot think of one reason to build this pipeline other than to placate ‘big oil’ and their ‘big money’. I can think of lots of reasons not to. Did you know, TransCanada, a foreign oil corporation, can take South Dakota farm and ranch land without landowner permission through ‘eminent domain’?

Did you know that Keystone One, built in 2010, leaks on a regular basis -- some big leaks too, and that Keystone XL is going to be built over the Ogallala Aquifer, a vital source of water for our region.

And did you know, that the energy it takes to extract the tar sand oil, liquefying it for transport, refining and shipping it overseas for sale, will dump 100 million tons of additional carbon into the atmosphere.

When the threat of climate change has 99% of the scientists in the world seriously worried about the future of the planet and the human race, this greed is inexcusable and needs to be exposed and rejected. We should be transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, not doubling down on Keystone [Rick Weiland, press release, 2015.01.09].

On the same day the House repeated its mistake, the Nebraska Supreme Court came one vote shy of requiring pipeliner TransCanada to draw a new route for Keystone XL through Nebraska. Pipeline opponents needed five judges out of the seven to agree with a lower court that a state law giving the governor authority to approve the pipeline route instead of the Nebraska Public Service Commission violated the state constitution. Four judges agreed, but three avoided the issue and said the plaintiffs lacked standing.

(O.K., new rule: from now on, before any lawsuit proceeds, we get a clear ruling from the court on who has standing and who doesn't. Or better yet, on Keystone XL, where we have Congressmen from Minnesota and Ohio voting for a pipeline that doesn't cross their state because they say all Americans will benefit from shipping Canadian oil to China, all Americans get standing!)

The Indigenous Environmental Network and Dakota Rural Action say their fight to block Keystone XL in South Dakota will continue. They encourage President Barack Obama to help them out:

“The Nebraska State Supreme Court decision does not change the facts on the matter. The Keystone XL pipeline still remains a threat to the livelihoods of America's farmers, ranchers, tribal nations, and individual landowners. And the fact remains that TransCanada cannot build Keystone XL in South Dakota.

We South Dakota pipeline fighters stand strong in our commitment to see the Keystone XL permit rejected by our state's Public Utilities Commission and by President Obama.

The President has all the information he needs to act and reject Keystone XL today. This pipeline fails the President's climate test. We encourage him to make the right choice to the benefit of us all" [Indigenous Environmental Network and Dakota Rural Action, press release, 2015.01.09].

President Obama has said he will veto the Keystone XL bill that Congress will shortly send him. Remember that his veto will not stop Keystone XL; it will only reject Congress's effort to force approval. The President will still render his own decision on TransCanada's permit application to the U.S. State Department. But remember, President Obama has been playing a coy but clever waiting game. He appears to be letting the clock run to give other forces—the Nebraska Supreme Court, the South Dakota PUC, and now the plunging price of oil, which may not kill tar sands but does change the politics—to stop the pipeline for him.

But President Obama's waiting game is about to run up against its own deadline. Hillary Clinton has only a few months to announce whether she's running for President or not. If she runs, she will run clearly center. She has already been dodging the Keystone XL issue with groups who'd like her to plug tar sands opposition into her pro-environment rhetoric. Clinton's ties to tar sands lobbyists suggest she knows who butters her bread and will advocate the Keystone XL pipeline to win votes from the moderate middle.

That gives President Obama two reasons to take Keystone XL off the table before Clinton's Presidential aspiration becomes official:

  1. Reading P&R Miscellany, the President knows that Keystone XL could split the Dem base. He can take the issue off the table, take the heat as a lame duck, and help Hillary focus on keeping Dems together.
  2. If the Obama–Clinton feud is real, and if the President knows his former Secretary of State supports Keystone XL, he'll want to knock this leg out from under her before the campaign really gets going. President Obama won't go for a direct, distracting confrontation with Clinton during her campaign, because he, unlike Harry Reid, would put winning before personal grudges. But he will take a chance to do what's right, block the pipeline, and force Clinton to campaign on other issues.

Expect Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds to jump on the Keystone XL bandwagon again next week. Expect the President to veto Congress's latest maneuvering, but then watch for a proper Presidential decision some time this year, before Hillary Clinton dclares her candidacy.

16 comments

Dakota Rural Action, Native allies, and other Earth-friendly neighbors go to Pierre today to show their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline at a Public Utilities Commission hearing at the Capitol. DRA was out yesterday in Rapid City and Sioux Falls protesting the proposed Canadian tar sands pipeline:

Dakota Rural Action protests Keystone XL pipeline in Rapid City, South Dakota, 2015.01.05. (Photo from DRA)

Dakota Rural Action protests Keystone XL pipeline in Rapid City, South Dakota, 2015.01.05. (Photo from DRA)

Dakota Rural Action protests Keystone XL pipeline in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2015.01.05. (Photo from DRA)

Dakota Rural Action protests Keystone XL pipeline in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2015.01.05. (Photo from DRA)

My Orland neighbor Charlie Johnson goes to the Lake County Commission in Madison today to talk about his concerns about the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, which will cross his organic farm land against his will to carry Bakken crude to Illinois refiners. Commission chairman Scott Pedersen tells me that the only permits Dakota Access would have to submit to Lake County would be the boring permits to bore a path for the pipe under county roads. Dakota Access would also have to apply to the township boards to drill under township roads. That's the only local monkey wrench available to pipeline opponents; otherwise, Charlie and friends will have to go to the PUC to talk Dakota Access, just as DRA and friends are doing today on Keystone XL.

I'm glad Charlie and DRA are braving the cold to bring some heat on these pipelines. I wonder: why do so many other South Dakotans seem so eager to embrace environmentally dangerous projects that abrogate our property rights?

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Toward the end of our conversation on KSOO's Viewpoint University yesterday, Dan Peters and Todd Epp asked me what big news stories we should watch for in 2015. You have my dreamy wishlist; now let me cast a partisan eye at my crystal ball and point toward some developing stories that offer smart Democrats some opportunities for organizing and recruiting allies this year for the 2016 election.

The Public Utilities Commission certification hearings on Keystone XL are arousing serious activism among cowboys and Indians. The state Democratic Party should be talking to those activists. Among the Indian opponents, the Democrats may find tribal leaders (and candidates?) who can help activate Indian volunteers and voters on other issues. Among the cowboy opponents, the Dems may find new, unexpected allies who are open to questioning their ingrained West River Republican assumptions and seeking common ground with Dems on other issues. I'm betting the pipeline issue will be resolved this year; Dems should strike now while that iron is hot to invite anti-pipeline activists to turn their energy to other important issues in 2016.

Another issue likely to get some resolution this year will be same-sex marriage. The record in other states and the failure of the Marty Jackley's arguments so far tell me Judge Karen Schreier will throw out South Dakota's gay marriage ban this year. LGBT activists and other lovers of equality and lifelong commitment will celebrate; then they'll want to turn their energy to other equality issues. LGBT activists are holding a summit this month; Democratic Party organizers should be at the summit listening for for ideas on what we can collaborate on in 2016.

South Dakota Democrats should build on one of their only visible areas of success, their ballot measures. Dems in 2014 won the biggest raise in the nation for minimum wage workers, which by itself is a great feather in the cap. We now need to keep tickling Republicans with that feather. We should monitor wage and employment data over the coming year, and when we see economic stimulus from workers with more wages and, as in Minnesota, no sign that increasing the minimum wage hurts job growth, we should loudly and unabashedly remind voters that we were right and the Republican corporate overlords were wrong.

Democrats need to build on that policy momentum, pick another issue (or two?), and get it on the ballot by the November 8, 2015 deadline. They need to march petitions all summer, not just to get a measure on the ballot, but to recruit and mobilize volunteers. They also ned to prepare a full-tilt marketing campaign behind a killer issue on which the party and its candidates can boldly hang their brand.

Democrats won't be alone on the petition trail this year. Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey and Steve Hildebrand have announced their intention to place a payday-lender-killing interest rate cap on the ballot. Daugaardian logic would say, "Don't crowd the ballot; too many issues make voters tired and stupid." But we're not Daugaard; we're Democrats! The more opportunities for people to practice democracy, the more boxes they can mark on a ballot, the better. Dems should think about issues that can synergize with the interest rate cap, and they should keep their radar on for other groups who might be working on initiatives, just in case we need to avoid duplication or cross-purposes, but they should not be afraid to forge their path with the policy initiative they think best serves the interest of the state and the party.

Along with possible issue synergy, the interest rate cap initiative may offer South Dakota Democrats a valuable lesson in coalition-building. Hickey and Hildebrand have already made national headlines with their unlikely political union. Hickey is an evangelical pastor and Republican legislator. Hildebrand helped Barack Obama become President. By any twist of conventional wisdom, a Hickey-Hildebrand collaboration should as unlikely as Stace Nelson and Cory Heidelberger running as a gubernatorial ticket in 2018. But there they are, Steve and Steve, putting aside political opposition to forge a working relationship and solve problems.

Any candidate for SDDP exec who cannot recognize, verbalize, and actualize the lesson in that paragraph should be summarily booted from the interview.

These suggestions apply as much to the state Democratic Party as it does to South Dakota Progress, the new group forming to recruit and support local Democratic candidates. SDP and SDDP (yes, this will be confusing) both need to find new workers, new candidates, new allies, and new dollars. Both groups can find useful conversations and lessons in all of the areas of activism mentioned above. And heck, if SD Progress can grow from mid-term frustration and one good idea into an effective organization, they may offer the South Dakota Democratic Party some lessons as well.

24 comments

NoKXL Rally, State Capitol, Pierre, South Dakota, January 6, 2015, 9:30 a.m.Session doesn't start until January 13, but dedicated citizens will be heating up the Capitol next week with a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Oceti Rising and Dakota Rural Action are holding a #NoKXL Rally on Tuesday, January 6. They invite all interested citizens (and all citizens should be interested!) to the Public Utilities Commission hearing that starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 413 of the Capitol. After hearing twelve electrical service territory boundary requests and Northwestern Energy's 20% rate hike request, the PUC will turn to the Yankton Sioux Tribe's motion to dismiss TransCanada's application for re-certification of its Keystone XL permit. As I reported on December 8, the Yankton Sioux Tribe contends that a "Tracking Table of Changes" submitted this fall by TransCanada with its application includes 30 modifications that render the proposed pipeline a different project from that which the PUC permitted in 2010. The tribe thus argues that TransCanada must apply for a whole new permit and submit to a whole new lengthy permit process.

On Monday, Dakota Rural Action and the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes filed motions to join the Yankton Sioux Tribe's motion, while the Rosebud Sioux Tribe filed a similar motion to dismiss. TransCanada contends the tribes' argument is illogical; things change, Keystone XL can still meet the permit conditions, and the tribes cite no law, statute, or case law to back their argument. PUC staff attorney Kristen N. Edwards recommends the PUC deny the motion to dismiss, saying that the significance of the listed project changes is better determined in discovery and the evidentiary hearing later this year.

Win or lose before the PUC Tuesday morning, the NoKXL Ralliers will have a prayer rally in the Capitol Rotunda after the hearing.

3 comments

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