Crude oil and crude politics


Like the weather, everyone complains about how slanderous politics has become but no one ever does anything about it.

Take the latest mudfest where two millionaires now argue over who got rich the worse way — the bare knuckle capitalism of Mitt Romney or the barely disguised influence-peddling of Newt Gingrich.

The answer is unimportant compared to the broken process that has delivered us to today’s political crassness and crudeness. Politics are paramount; policy unimportant.

Keystone pipeline

The raw politics surrounding TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry oil-bearing sands from Canada’s Alberta province to Texas refineries, showcase this perfectly.

Promoters of the $7 billion, 1,700-mile project frame the now-stalled pipeline as a fight for jobs and energy against bike-riding, granola-eating environmentalists.

Fight over property rights

In Nebraska, ground zero for the pipeline fight, a coalition of farmers, cattle ranchers and statewide citizen groups see it differently. They view it as a fight for property rights and rural livelihoods rooted in thin soil and life-giving water.

Compounding the controversy, however, are partisan, national politicians.

While Nebraska’s good people and nonpartisan legislature spent the early winter searching for solutions to worries about the pipeline’s planned route — through the eastern edge of its fragile Sandhills ranchland and, often, in the water of the region’s vital Ogallala Aquifer — the Big Pols of Capitol Hill jumped into the fray to make hash of a largely local, nearly-solved problem.

Wasteful politics

What happened is a lesson in today’s foolish, wasteful politics.

Nebraskans of every political stripe and occupation worked with Republican Gov. Dave Heineman to hold a special session of the state’s nonpartisan, unicameral legislature to address what all felt were serious flaws in the pipeline’s route and design.

In mid-November, two bills — one that gives the state’s Public Service Commission authority over where to site future oil pipelines and another that moved the XL pipeline out of the Sandhills — passed the legislature by 46-0 votes. “Heineman,” reported the Nov. 22 Lincoln Journal Star, “immediately signed the measures into law.”

Problem solved, right? The state that was holding up the entire pipeline, Nebraska, had worked out a nonpartisan — and unanimous — solution to a problem that had nothing to do with jobs, America’s thirst for oil or solar-powered greenie weenies.

Protecting ranchlands

Instead, it centered on what ranchers and the majority of Nebraskans clearly thought necessary: protection of their delicate ranchlands atop an ocean of life-giving water. After all, crude oil might be found anywhere but Nebraska’s Sandhills, 13 millions acres of green grass, fat cattle and blue sky, existed nowhere else.

So the locals — the folks who Washington reductionists always claim are smart enough to solve their own problems — solved their own problems.

No benefits

But, lo-and-behold, that created another problem: the Big Pols hadn’t gotten any political benefit from the Nebraska solutions.

No partisan advantage No campaign issue. No legislative leg-up. No nothing.

No worry; those woes were solved by the Republican demand of the White House to rule the pipeline a go/no go project by Feb. 29 as part of the Christmas compromise to continue a modest federal tax break.

No-go decision

The clever White House, however, defined the ultimatum as a problem of process — gee, not enough time to complete the environmental work needed to legally approve this — and, as such, made an easy “no go” decision in mid-January.

The irony of partisan politicians making the pipeline into a 2012 election litmus test is that any new pipeline route through Nebraska all but removes the feds from any role whatsoever now because the special legislative session gave the state’s Public Service Commission “authority for siting future oil pipelines.”

Golly, that news made the paper — in November. But hey, the choice was never between jobs and environmentalists. It was between partisan politics and private-public good and public, despite the politicians, got it right.


© 2011 ag comm


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.


  1. The only jobs created by the oil industry are clean-up jobs after oil spills and deep-water, blow-outs and pump-handler jobs. The Keystone will create very few, permament jobs. This pipeline will not give the US energy independence, because the refined products from the oil passing through thie pipeline are for export, similiarly, the Keystone XL should have no affect on the gasoline price. However, if there is a maintence problem with the pipeline and it has to be shut-down, the oil corporations will use this stoppage as excuse to increase the price of gasoline. The Keystone XL pipeline will not benefit American, domestic consumers, but it will benefit the oil refiners in Port Arthur,Texas, namely, Total, the Koch brothers, Shell and Valero. These refiners will make fantastic profits, because Port Arthur is a “Foreign Trade Zone,” which really means, “free tax zone.” These refiners do not have to pay any taxes or custom duties on the exportation and importation of refined products and crude oil.


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