The US State Department held a hearing in Glendive on Tuesday that made true the adage “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Democrats and republicans alike shook hands and together and asked the State Department to permit the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Both proponents and opponents were passionate about the pipeline and had reasons for their views. Numbers were thrown out by speakers for economic impact both high and low. Job numbers were in dispute. People believed that the pipeline could devalue land and others believed they could find an income stream. With all of the testimony, however, there were some key elements that were missing on both sides of the issue: personal stories of affected landowners, individuals needing jobs, and private citizens already involved in the local process.
No landowners came forward to say they had been offered a contract and refused it or were waiting for any specific issues to be resolved. Stories that were told were primarily “friend of a friend” stories and because of the inability by the teller of the stories or media to verify them, the stories have the dangerous potential to become urban legends. Affected landowners in negotiations sign a confidentiality agreement and are not permitted to speak to others about the agreement, which is similar to contracted acres of barley for beer companies and other crops. County commissioners from across the state and most counties in eastern Montana testified in favor of the Keystone XL. Counties reap taxes from land that the pipeline will sit on and many county commissioners,noting they represented those who elected them, said they support the pipeline. Elected officials, including Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin, noted that they are not experts in pipes or welding and it was there position that if the DEQ determined that science behind the proposed pipeline structure is sound they will defer to the those experts.
Jobs were a big part of the nearly six hours of testimony on Tuesday. Job numbers were thrown around and accusations of bringing in foreign laborers we made. No labor analysts or economists spoke for either side. However, one union manager confirmed to the US State Department that she had been involved in the contract process and a contract has been signed with her union guaranteeing American workers in her union will be building the pipeline if it is permitted. Additionally, multiple American construction owners appeard and said they expect to go to work on the pipeline with their American workers and some regional businesses such as Fisher Sand and Gravel in Dawson County say they expect the building of the pipeline to allow them to expand their businesses. Republican state representative Matt Rosendale found himself on the same side as labor unions at the hearing and labor unions leaders shook his hand as they put aside differences from 2011 legislative session to push in concert for the permitting of the Keystone XL. One person testified against the pipeline calling it a part of Agenda 21 and the NAFTA Canada-to-Mexico corridor, both they considered a conspiracy of the United Nations. Agenda 21 is a UN initiative dating back to the 1990’s calling for global conservation which, ironically, agrees with the opponents. NAFTA was a 1994 free trade agreement signed by Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Much of the oppositional language seemed to reincarnate directly out of literature distributed during that era. Just as democrats and republicans seemed to join forces at the hearing, so did the radical left and the radical right, each of whom for their own reasons thought the government should not allow the pipeline. Proponents countered by explaining the $7 billion dollar private investment by TransCanada as privately-funded stimulus plan with no cost to tax payers.
Testimony from private citizens, particularly in those counties impacted directly was for the most part missing and somewhat intriguing. Throughout eastern Montana, and particularly in Dawson County, residents have large opportunities to influence policy. Most communities have held visioning meetings over the years, every community has growth policies, Horizons Projects offered community organizer training, and larger towns offer year-long leadership institutes. Few citizens sit in on public meetings or participate in their civic opportunities, some would say responsibilities, on a regular basis. Nearly no citizens attend city council or county commission meetings. All of those citizen opportunities and the resulting position statements and programs have lead elected officials over the last decade to the conclusion that the Keystone XL pipeline is good for eastern Montana, the whole state, and the nation. It may even be reasonable to suggest it somewhat passive-agressive of those individuals to leap to the top, the US State Department, without first being a constructive part of the solution-seeking process to address poverty, jobs, land-use, and local environment. One local man who testified in support of the pipeline had a creative way of diluting outsider testimony. Margo Kidder, a minor celebrity who once played Lois Lane, claims Montana and Canadian residence. However, she is not known to participate in the local civic process. Bob Van der Valk, a retired petroleum executive who now lives in Terry, Montana makes frequent visits to area elected officials. He spoke just before Kidder. As he left the podium he swooped over to Kidder in a Superman-like move and kissed Lois Lane on the cheek – after all, Lois Lane always did need rescuing when she unwittingly found herself in the wrong place.
National security, climate change, and where the processed oil will end up was also covered by most of more than 100 speakers. Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison presented one of the most logic-based testimonies of the nearly six hour hearing. Mayor Jimison acknowledged that there are benefits and concerns to installation of a pipeline of such magnitude in eastern Montana. He turned to the audience, asked how many of them traveled to the hearing in a non-fossil fueled vehicle. None raised their hands. He spoke to the cost/benefit comparison. Like many speakers he addressed national security issues of obtaining oil from Canada compared to the Middle East. He also spoke to jobs and fair land contracts. Finally, he encouraged those from far away from the pipeline’s path to “see the pipeline as the great rich uncle that you have never met. Missoula will never have to see it, look at it, ever even know it is there.” He also pointed out that while it will be out of sight, it will also put money in their pockets and it is unlikely they will be opposed to accepting the cash.
*Emilie Boyles anchored Livestream of the entire hearing. This report is a summary of the event. Full unedited testimony can be purchased by emailing [email protected]