Transcending the Typical Trans-Canada Talking Points

Big Concerns…Big Decisions…What’s Right? What are the Priorities?

Very many eyes and ears seem to be focused on the TransCanada pipeline issue at present and that’s understandable considering there is a U.S. State Department Hearing today in Lincoln. Clearly there are many interested Nebraskans if the hearing is to be convened at the Pershing Center.

Recently, Shelli spoke with someone who stated that the majority of Nebraskans’ opinions on the subject could best be characterized with the following two words; ambivalence or opposition.  That assessment seems accurate, although we can speak only anecdotally.

Whatever the actual numbers of opponents, proponents, and undecideds, the opposition has been getting louder. And so far as we are aware, opponents are concerned about the following issues:

  • Environmental impact, especially regarding a potential spill and contamination of the Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer
  • Landowners’ concerns and some who are reluctant to enter into agreements for easements
  • An lack of benefits to Nebraska generally, and specifically that the oil will be sent to Texas and onto the open market, not sold in Nebraska or possibly not even in America

Proponents of the pipeline claim the project will…

  • Create Nebraska jobs
  • Generate tax revenues
  • Improve America’s energy security

It is true that America needs…

  • More oil drilling
  • More oil refining
  • More pipelines
  • More tapping of our own natural resources
  • More private sector employment opportunities

It’s also true that Nebraska specifically needs…

  • More free enterprise
  • More private sector (and less government) employment
  • More commerce
  • More tax revenues generated from vigorous private sector activity

From all that we we’ve heard and read so far, the debate has been very limited in scope, and is a back and forth, largely over studies, projections, and who can get their hands on a better “expert”.

There are some fundamental questions it seems few people are asking. We believe there are a number of concerns about the pipeline project, but most of them are associated with first principles.

People who call themselves “conservatives” tend to lose battles but, even worse, contribute to losing the ideological “war” when they spar about “issues” solely, dive into minutia, and adopt the language and terminology of progressives. By using progressive arguments and tactics today, “conservatives” buy into the idea that debates will be framed on those same terms tomorrow.

If limited government, constitutional conservatives want to win “the war”, our conduct and arguments should be based on principles:

“Our mission is to actively promote a return to Constitutional government according to its original meaning, as the most effective avenue to encourage public policy that promotes personal responsibility, protects individual liberty and property, and guarantees limited government, sovereignty, and free markets.

As we noted above, we certainly need more oil, more economic activity, more employment opportunities. A pipeline through Nebraska may be a very good idea. Unfortunately, when it comes to the TransCanada pipeline project, it’s impossible to weigh the ultimate question of whether this pipeline should be built when there are so many preliminary questions about the project that are not being satisfactorily answered.  In short, the whole decision process seems upside down.

We have the following questions, on the following subjects…


TransCanada is a foreign company. Is it a good idea to increase ownership in America by foreign countries formerly

What are the provisions for ownership exactly and what are the responsibilities? What are the jurisdictional issues?

State Sovereignty

How does Nebraska fit into this picture? Was this entire project, the desire of a private company, proposed to landowners in the state, then followed by the company working with state officials, and then, as a whole, working together with other states? And then, at the appropriate time, did all parties jointly contact federal authorities to deal with the interstate and international trade issues?

Or, did the entire project happen in almost a totally reverse order?

How should this process work under our Constitution and how does state sovereignty fit it?

What is Nebraska’s interest in this project?

“Energy Independence and Security”

Why has it become a practical and profitable proposition for a foreign country to pipe its oil through America? Could it be because our own policies are preventing us from tapping our own resources?

Proponents are expending some significant effort in advocating for this foreign company’s ability to build their pipeline. Might this effort be better spent asking some tough questions about the exploitation of our own resources? Wouldn’t that constitute more “energy independence and security”? (Yes, I did use the word exploitation. It’s only become a “dirty” word in the past couple of decades. See Webster’s.)

Does allowing a foreign country to run their pipeline through America assist in reversing the trend against using our own resources?

Property Rights

Why have the landowners in the pipeline’s path being threatened with eminent domain by TransCanada?

Has there been any determination regarding whether government’s use of eminent domain is appropriate in this instance?

Is eminent domain in this instance appropriate? With the exception of the Kelo v. New London case, we are not aware of a tradition of government invoking eminent domain for the benefit of a private company, and we know how well that worked out in Kelo formerly/

Proponents are touting the revenue benefits to the state. Just what are the property arrangements, what are the tax revenue potentials, and how will property owners be affected?


  • What is the proposed size of pipe?
  • Will it be buried, or above ground?
  • Is it possible that property would be divided by the pipeline in such a way that reduces its overall value?
  • Will ranchers have issues with moving their cattle for grazing? Will they be compensated?

If federal government is controlling the siting of the pipeline, how is the route being decided?

Which Federal Departments of Government Should Be Handling This Project?

Why is the Secretary of State the controlling party? This is not a treaty, it’s commerce. It’s a project requested by a private company in Canada, not the government of Canada.

Doesn’t the Constitution – Article I, Section 8 – say something about the regulation of commerce between / among states and with foreign entities? Didn’t Congress create a commerce department for this purpose?

We think the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be shuttered. But, in Nebraska, we don’t seem to be hearing much about its involvement. Supposedly, the EPA exists because it has vital expertise on regulating such matters as standing puddles of water, trace amounts of arsenic in drinking water, etc., etc. Considering the levels of interference by the EPA at every turn, its lack of obstruction here seems interesting.

If there were ever a case that would involve the EPA, one would think this would be it. Is it true that the EPA has been silent? To hear Nebraska officials address the subject, including Jeff Fortenberry at an August town hall, Hillary Clinton is in charge. Is that true, or is the EPA involved?

List of Advocates…interesting??

We both received an invitation to join AFP-NE for a pro-pipeline rally downtown just before today’s hearing. Why? It says:

  • To create Nebraska jobs
  • Generate money for Nebraska’s economy
  • Help secure America’s energy future

The slick full color mailer quotes a June 2010 study conducted by The Perryman Group entitled “The Impact of Developing the Keystone XL Pipeline Project on Business Activity in the U.S.” Just a little digging about this report reveals that it was paid for by…wait for it…TransCanada.  Some of the opponents of the pipeline are questioning the methodology used in the report, particularly as it relates to the number of jobs that will be created by the project.

Once again, whether it is proponent or opponent, battling about “job creation” is an argument framed by the left. Now, we can fight about the number of jobs a project will or won’t create. Your expert versus my expert. Your hired gun versus my hired gun.

But just how many jobs, both temporary and permanent would the pipeline project create in the state of Nebraska? Is there a reliable source of information available to obtain the answer?

Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska’s Second Congressional District seems inordinately interested in the pipeline project. He even introduced a bill to expedite the process of moving the project forward. Why is that? The pipeline project doesn’t affect Congressman Terry’s district.(For the bill number and the opinion of his challenger, Brett Lindstrom, click here.)

We’re wondering if the “Platte Institute news” item, written by Omaha’s Laborers Local 1140 Business Manager advocating for the pipeline project has anything to do with the matter. An undated posting on Lee Terry’s website noting, “TransCanada says it has signed building contracts with four major U.S. unions”, does seem related. We’re scratching our heads – anyone else?

Some opponents (however recent)…interesting?

Nebraska’s Governor was reluctant to weigh in on the subject of the pipeline at all for quite some time, but this past April, he did state that there was little he could do about the matter, that Nebraskans should appeal to federal officials. But a Congressional Research Service report, requested by Rep. Lee Terry, that stated, “The federal government does not have siting authority for oil pipelines, even interstate pipelines…state law establishes the primary siting authority for oil pipelines, including interstate oil pipelines.”

Sometime in the past six weeks or so, Governor Dave has changed his mind. Reportedly, he has sent a letter to the President and Secretary of State requesting that TransCanada’s permit be denied.

Could there have been more done earlier to answer the important questions about the pipeline to determine whether the project was being constructed in a way that was good for Nebraska?

Does our Governor’s shifting position have anything to do with his and his Attorney General’s both, just by coincidence, having reporting errors regarding their dual campaign donations from TransCanada?

Jane Fleming Kleeb seems to be leading the charge against the pipeline.That should come with a very long list of questions…

  • Anyone else uncomfortable being on the same side of any issue with Mrs. Kleeb?
  • How is Jane Kleeb debating this issue? Is it all drinking water, sandhill cranes, and apocalyptic oil spill illustrations?
  • Is she making arguments about the Constitution, state sovereignty, and proper process?
  • Is she advocating for drill, baby, drill?
  • Is she disclosing her personal conflict of interest in the whole matter? Her husband Scott is the CEO of a green energy company that seems coincidentally to have been created at a time when there were a lot of federal subsidies being handed out for green technology (February 2009 Stimulus). (Solyndra of Nebraska, sort of?)

We have only written once previously here about Mrs. Kleeb, but readers should note that as an employee for SEIU in the state, she was a key organizer of pro-health care “reform” rallies and and at least one counter-protest for which she arranged out-of-staters to be bused into Lincoln. She was the lead organizer of the rally in August of 2009 which became downright thuggish, which we have mentioned here before.

Is this a person with whom professed conservatives should thrown in their lot? Working with someone like this is like handling a boomerang. It will come back and whack you later.

Seemingly Missing from the Debate…

Third District Congressman Adrian Smith…seems a bit like…Car 54, where are you?

We didn’t spend a lot of time searching so it is possible that that there have been recent developments, but a letter in May in the Lincoln Journal Star from a constituent indicates that Rep. Smith, the Congressman in whose district the entire proposed project would run, seemed curiously absent from the debate. Why?

Passing the Buck…

The primary reason why we wrote anything on this subject was due to the many, many questions we have about it, many of which are caused by the absurd lack of responsibility by Nebraska’s officials on this topic. It seems all upside and backwards. No one is responsible here, don’t know what to tell you, write a letter to the Feds.

Some officials are utterly absent, others who have no need for involvement are the most energetic.

Our Governor abdicated responsibility noting there was nothing he could do and then suddenly shifted.

Connected groups are advocating loudly.

We don’t like this process. What is really going on here?

Because the process is so upside down and the facts murky, we don’t pretend to have many answers. We know we need more oil in the market and gas prices to come down, more private enterprise, and more opportunities.

We also know we need, as conservatives, to make principled arguments, not ones that play into the hands of progressives generally, and environmentalists, specifically, who have succeeded in limiting our use of our own resources. Frustrated Nebraskans operating on NIMBY motivation today could come to regret such positions in future.

We need elected officials who take responsibility, who lead, and who don’t take positions for questionable reasons or because they put their finger in the air.

We need to hold our elected officials to higher standards than this and make them follow the Constitution. If we don’t, we are likely to have more to worry about than an oil spill.

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About Grassroots in Nebraska (GiN)
Our mission is to actively promote a return to Constitutional government according to its original meaning, as the most effective avenue to encourage public policy that promotes personal responsibility, protects individual liberty and property, and guarantees limited government, sovereignty, and free markets. Grassroots in Nebraska

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