Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) is hollering about outsiders taking away South Dakotans' and Nebraskans' property rights. No, he's not finally getting his property-rights ducks in a row and protesting TransCanada's use of eminent domain to seize land for its Keystone pipelines. Heck no—junketing Lederman loves putting Canadian oil profits over local land rights.

Senator Lederman is actually opposing a federal conservation plan, the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area:

Our Federal Government is threatening to take 90,000 acres of privately held property in South Dakota and Nebraska under the Land Protection Plan (LPP) for the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area. You only have until September 30, 2013 to voice your opinion about this threat to private property rights.

I encourage you to read about the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area, http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=40350, which impacts private property owners in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. Viable agricultural land is threatened in this area. Taxable private property is threatened in this area [Senator Dan Lederman, "Proposed Federal Land Grab Threatens Private Property Rights," blog, 2013.09.15].

Senator Lederman must be reading a different Niobrara Confluence and Ponce Bluffs Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Land Protection plan from the one I'm reading. There is no threat to private property rights, viable agricultural land, or taxable private property. Here's what's actually happening:

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are proposing three alternatives to acquire conservation easements on or outright purchase 5% to 15% of land in the project area along the Missouri River between Pickstown and Sioux City. (The proposed easement-purchase ratio would be 4 to 1.) The feds' preferred plan is 10%: 80,000 acres in the Niobrara Confluence upstream of the Gavins Point Dam, and 60,000 acres in Ponca Bluffs downstream of Gavins Point. The plan speaks unvaryingly of working with willing landowners. Because Senator Lederman apparently missed it, I'll write it big:

This plan is designed to work in partnership with willing landowners only.

[National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Draft EIS: Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas, March 2013]

If that's not clear enough, check out this flow chart of the feds' acquisition process:

Land acquisition process for the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Land acquisition process for the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas, Nebraska and South Dakota. DEIS NC/PBCA, March 2013, p. 168

See that little arrow and octagon to the left of "Offer to landowner acceptable"? "No" means no; "End" means end. The flow chart goes no further. Contrary to the false fears Senator Lederman stokes in his comment section, there's no threat to condemn the property. Nowhere does the plan force anyone to surrender property rights.

The government will pay landowners to maintain grasses, forbs, low shrubs, and trees on the conservation easements with these restrictions:

  • Haying, mowing, and seed harvesting for any reason will not occur before July 15 in any calendar year.
  • Grassland, wildlife habitat, or other natural features will not be altered by digging, plowing, disking, or otherwise destroying the vegetative cover, and no agricultural crop production can occur on the habitat areas delineated.
  • Draining, filling, and leveling of wetlands will be prohibited.
  • Altering and stabilizing the riverbank and shoreline will be prohibited.
  • Livestock confinement facilities such as feedlots will be prohibited [Draft EIS: NC/PBCA, March 2013].

The owners can still graze the land freely. They still pay taxes and control noxious weeds. Don't like those conditions? Don't sell. Uncle Sam will take its conservation business elsewhere.

This conservation plan protects species while boosting local tourism and economic activity. It never threatens to take landowners to court to eminent domain their land, unlike TransCanada, which strongarmed landowners all along its pipeline routes with the threat of using the American court system to take American land for private foreign profit.

Senator Lederman has been silent about the property rights of South Dakota and Nebraska landowners facing the very real threat to their property rights from Canadian tar sands pipelines. But he is making stuff up to rouse opposition to a sensible and voluntary federal conservation plan.

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Consumer Watchdog posts a new report confirming pretty much everything I've told you about the Keystone XL pipeline: it will send North American tar sands oil overseas, raise our oil prices, and boost Big Oil profits at our expense.

Long-time Los Angeles Times journalist Judy Dugan and independent petroleum analyst Tim Hamilton authored the report for Consumer Watchdog. They confirm that Keystone XL's business case revolves around putting Canada's currently landlocked oil on the international market—i.e., selling it to China, not the United States. Alberta energy minister Ken Hughes, whose province depends on growing oil royalties, says exporting that tar sands oil is in his province's interest:

If TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast were approved, that would be “an important step” to connect Alberta to international markets.... said Ken Hughes, Alberta’s energy minister. “[I]t is a strategic imperative, it is in Alberta’s interest, in Canada’s interest, that we get access to tidewater... to diversify away from the single continental market and be part of the global market” [J. Van Loon, quoted in Judy Dugan and Tim Hamilton, "Keystone XL: Oil Industry Cash Machine," Consumer Watchdog, 2013.07.16, p. 7].

Dugan and Hamilton note that tar sands oil has consistently sold for $30 less per barrel, due to the lack of access to the export market. Build Keystone XL, let the Gulf refineries take that 900,000-barrel-per-day slurp of Alberta's milkshake, and that price discount shrinks, meaning the Koch Brothers, Exxon, Shell, and the Chinese, Korean, and Russian tar sands investors make a whole lot more money.

Dugan and Hamilton also conclude that Keystone XL is the only immediately viable way for the Kochs et al. to realize that windfall. The report says provincial opposition to a tar sands pipeline running west through the Rockies and British Columbia to the Pacific is too strong for Big Oil to prevail, at least in the near term. Block Keystone XL, and you keep the tar sands oil cheap on on the U.S. market for some time.

Build Keystone XL, and the tar sands profits come at America's and especially the Midwest's expense. Reducing our regional oil supply naturally raises our prices, wiping out the economic benefits TransCanada promises us from building Keystone XL:

In the Midwest alone, each year of only a 20-cent-a-gallon increase could rip $3 billion to $4 billion from more productive spending. The up to $4 billion in Midwest economic loss is close to the amount that TransCanada would spend on the pipeline project, canceling a major claim of U.S. economic benefit. While the company says it will spend $7 billion, some of that will be spent in Canada and some has already been spent, so it is has no future economic effect [Dugan and Hamilton, 2013].

Keystone XL offers South Dakota and the United States little to gain and much to lose. Let's not play patsies to Big Oil. Say no to Keystone XL.

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I was curious as to whether the South Dakota Fusion Center (no, not the secret lab at Mines where the grad students brew moonshine with cold fusion) had gotten corporate-fascist briefings from TransCananda on potential Keystone XL protests. The Canadian company has told Nebraska law enforcement that folks taking pictures and asking questions are potential eco-terrorists; I'd like to know if TransCanada propagandists have said similar things to South Dakota officials about Bret Clanton, Phyllis Cole-Dai, Vi Waln, and other nice South Dakotans who've expressed misgivings about running another tar sands pipeline through our state.

Homeland Security probably already knows I'm curious thanks to NSA surveillance. But I wrote to the South Dakota Fusion Center anyway:

I'm curious: has the South Dakota Fusion Center received materials or briefings pertaining to possible protest activities against TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline? If so, can your office make those materials available for public review? [CAH, e-mail, 2013.06.17]

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety responds this morning:

Dear Sir, [again, formal letter: colon, not comma!]

Thank you for your request for information. We are unable to respond to your request in any specific way due to provisions of SDCL 1-27-1.5 (5), 1-27-1.5 (8), 1-27-1.5 (27) and provisions of the South Dakota Fusion Center Privacy Policy. Our privacy policy is available on our website at:

http://www.dps.sd.gov/homeland_security/documents/SDFusionCenterPrivacyPolicy.pdf

[Jenna E. Howell, Director, Division of Legal and Regulatory Services, South Dakota Department of Public Safety, e-mail, 2013.06.19]

No soup for you, press! Here are the open records exceptions DPS cites:

(5) Records developed or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with duties of investigation or examination of persons, institutions, or businesses, if the records constitute a part of the examination, investigation, intelligence information, citizen complaints or inquiries, informant identification, or strategic or tactical information used in law enforcement training. However, this subdivision does not apply to records so developed or received relating to the presence of and amount or concentration of alcohol or drugs in any body fluid of any person, and this subdivision does not apply to a 911 recording or a transcript of a 911 recording, if the agency or a court determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure. This law in no way abrogates or changes §§ 23-5-7 and 23-5-11 or testimonial privileges applying to the use of information from confidential informants;

...(8) Information solely pertaining to protection of the security of public or private property and persons on or within public or private property, such as specific, unique vulnerability assessments or specific, unique response plans, either of which is intended to prevent or mitigate criminal acts, emergency management or response, or public safety, the public disclosure of which would create a substantial likelihood of endangering public safety or property; computer or communications network schema, passwords, and user identification names; guard schedules; lock combinations; or any blueprints, building plans, or infrastructure records regarding any building or facility that expose or create vulnerability through disclosure of the location, configuration, or security of critical systems;

...(27) Any other record made closed or confidential by state or federal statute or rule or as necessary to participate in federal programs and benefits.

The South Dakota Fusion Center's privacy policy says that individuals may review information about them collected by the Fusion Center "for the purpose of challenging the accuracy or completeness of the information"; however, the Fusion Center can still deny that access if they determine disclosure would interfere with an ongoing investigation, endanger the safety of "an individual, organization, or community," or are otherwise deemed confidential or secret.

So if TransCanada is bad-mouthing South Dakotans to our law enforcement officials, we probably aren't going to find out about it, not without a lot of lawyering.

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Hey, kids! How would you like your local law enforcement, at the behest of our foreign corporate overlords, to brand you as a terrorist threat? Here are some quick and easy "suspicious activities" you can do to make yourself the envy of all your jihadi friends:

  1. "Photography, observation, or surveillance of facilities, buildings, or ritical infrastructure and key resources": take pictures of roads, pumping stations, big pipeline storage depots, or TransCanada personnel (what resource is more key than one's people?), and you, too, could be a terrorist!
  2. "Eliciting information beyond curiosity about a facility's or building's purpose, operations, or security": Curiosity kills the cat and the creepy eco-terrorist. Keep your questions to yourself, and let corporations do what they want.
  3. "Material acquisition or storage of unusual quantities of materials": And how many of you have unusual quantities of ammunition and MREs in your Black Hills bunkers? Heck, how many of you bought more pickles and beans than you really need at Sam's Club last weekend?

TransCanada, a foreign corporation, is advising your law enforcement officials, via suspicious Homeland Security Fusion Centers, to keep an eye out for the above activities, for fear that Constitutionally protected activities by American citizens could hinder their pipeline profits. Pay attention: while right-wing criers distract us with fabricated scandals about the IRS challenging your ability to violate non-profit tax code, corporations are pushing your police to limit your ability to seek information and goods and speak up against injustice. You tell me which is the greater threat to your liberty.

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Regular readers know I don't go for conspiracy theories. But give me three instances of the powers that be portraying anti-Keystone XL activists as terrorists, and I can't help thinking we face an orchestrated corporate PR campaign.

First public officials in the Black Hills publicly portray opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline as terrorists in a fictional scenario completely unnecessary to their emergency drill.

Then well-connected journalist Bob Mercer defends that propaganda by pointing to "people in the guerilla fatigues with masks" who stood in silent protest at a State Department hearing on the pipeline in Pierre. Mercer makes no mention if the intimidation factor of burly union reps bused in from other states to the September 2011 Pierre hearing wearing t-shirts declaring their support for Keystone XL.

Now Bold Nebraska finds TransCanada documents showing that the pipeline company is waging a PR campaign to make state and local law enforcement officials view Keystone XL protestors as a terrorist threat:

TransCanada, the Canadian corporation behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is providing security briefings to Nebraska authorities warning them to look into the application of "anti-terrorism laws" on people who oppose the pipeline despite the fact that no Nebraskan has committed a crime in the state in their efforts to stop the pipeline.

Bold Nebraska obtained TransCanada documents from the Nebraska State Patrol through a Freedom of Information Act request and was alarmed to discover what they describe as efforts to build distrust between Nebraska police and citizens who have organized to oppose the pipeline which threatens their air, land and water.

...The preponderance of opposition in the state has come from farmers and ranchers, whose threat level TransCanada describes as "low" while calling them "abusive and aggresive." In the presentations, dated December of 2012 but presented last month in Nebraska, TransCanada warns authorities that actions in Texas and by Anonymous could be coming to Nebraska and are "potential security concerns." They warn authorities to prepare for coming incidences of property destruction and "monkeywrenching." No such incidents have occurred in Nebraska to date [Mark Hefflinger, "TransCanada Calls Nebraska Ranchers Aggressive and Abusive, Talks of Terrorism," BoldNebraska.com, 2013.06.11].

Bold Nebraska posts TransCanada's offending anti-American propaganda for you to read and judge for yourself. But it seems the only real violence happening anywhere along the Keystone XL construction route down south is police roughing up protesters.

TransCanada uses our courts to take our property rights. Now they try to co-opt our police to take away our rights to assemble, protest, and petition. And those corporate-state tactics intimidate some people less than a couple hippies in Army jackets.

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You think TransCanada/Keystone pipeline opponents are noisy? Try living next to one of the Keystone pumping stations, like the one near Fort Ransom, North Dakota, that's bothering its neighbors:

The Keystone pump station that contains four, 5,000-horsepower electric turbines has been operating lower than the permitted 55-decibel level since it came on line, according to the company and state regulators. But Bruce Pantzke, who owns a farm less than a mile from the Keystone pump station, said it emits a sound that’s like “fingernails on a chalkboard.”

Not all sound is the same, he said.

“There is a lot of difference between 55 decibels of soothing elevator music and the whine off those turbines,” he said.

Pantzke said there are 18 homes within three miles of the pump station. The facility also is within a few miles of two state parks.

“It’s not something you grow used to and you can’t sleep with the windows open when that thing is going,” Pantzke said of the high-pitched whine from the turbines. “A lot of the neighbors are getting more irritated and sensitive to it every day” [James MacPherson, "Trees Planted to Hush Pipeline Pump Noise," AP via Jamestown Sun, 2013.06.08].

TransCanada says coyotes are louder than its plant, and it would cost too much to be a good neighbor and soundproof the facility. The company says they've installed hundreds of thousands of dollars of noise-reducing insulation, but neighbor Bruce Pantzke says that insulation may have made the noise worse. Nonetheless...

For its sound-buffering project, TransCanada purchased some 110, 6-foot tall spruce trees from a local nursery at a cost of about $40,000, Howard said. The company also is attempting to acquire additional easements to plant more trees in the area.

Howard said there are no “scientific studies” to indicate how much the trees will reduce the noise, if at all [MacPherson, 2013.06.08].

Even when they are trying to be helpful, TransCanada can't manage to do serious science and do right by the neighbors who must bear the externalities of TransCanada's oil profiteering.

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I promise, Bob: I was not wearing my camos or mask while writing this post.

Tar sands oil and the pipelines that carry them bring unavoidable risks to South Dakota. But TransCanada exacerbates those risks with what a fired engineer with experience on the Keystone pipeline system calls a "culture of non-compliance":

[Evan] Vokes, an expert on pipeline welding practices, worked for TransCanada for five years and was fired without cause in 2012 after persistently raising concerns about the company's safety practices.

In particular, Vokes provided the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources with a number of documented violations of welding and pressure testing codes. The Committee is now studying the safety of pipeline transportation in Canada.

During the construction of a natural gas line feeding one oil sands project, Vokes alleged shoddy workmanship resulting in "a 100 per cent repair rate." When the engineer identified the code violations to the company, his superiors forced him to "retract" his statement, Vokes told the committee.

"Coercion were the TransCanada management tools I experienced in my first months at TransCanada, as the written communications were very different from the oral instructions."

In addition, engineering shortcuts associated with the first phase of the Keystone XL project "resulted in substandard material being used in Keystone pump stations," he alleged [Andrew Nikiforuk, "TransCanada Has a 'Culture of Non-Compliance': Engineer to Senate Committee," The Tyee: The Hook, 2013.06.07].

First phase of the Keystone XL project—that's the Keystone 1 pipeline that runs under East River from Marshall County to Yankton. All four of the pumping stations along that South Dakota stretch of the pipeline sprang leaks in its first year of operation. Those are the pumping stations that TransCanada absurdly tried to exclude from its risk assessment.

Vokes isn't the first engineer to blow the whistle on TransCanada's shoddy work on the Keystone pipeline system. In September 2011, Bechtel inspector Michael Klink found faulty steel, bad construction practices, and pressure from TransCanada to cover up problems on Keystone 1. Of course, it doesn't take an expert to see daylight through TransCanada's welds.

Making mistakes is one thing. Cheating is another. TransCanada's record shows we can't trust them to follow the rulers and take responsibility for the risks their work poses to South Dakota's natural resources.

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TransCanada representatives showed up at the tribal office in Eagle Butte to talk up the Keystone XL pipeline, which will cross the Cheyenne River just outside the southwest corner of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. They had a closed-door meeting with tribal chairman Kevin Keckler. After that meeting, Cheyenne River Sioux Councilwoman Robin LeBeau caught TransCanada's hired men and offered the response we all ought to give to TransCanada: take a hike.

Councilwoman LeBeau understands that TransCanada is just another bunch of wasicus looking to rape and steal and take her people's land. And in TransCanada's eyes, we are all Indians.

Here's the second part of LeBeau's conversation with TransCanada's men, in which she gets to know these fellas, who say they are from Sioux City and Oklahoma. The reps note that the tribal chairman says he opposes the pipeline but welcomes TransCanada to send folks to talk:

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