Neil Young, Willie Nelson and 8,000 in Nebraska Stand Up to the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

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Under a warm September sun, thousands spread out across the cornfield on the Tanderup family farm in Neligh, Nebraska. We sang along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson to honor the beautiful Nebraska farms and ranches, waters and traditional lands. Willie Nelson and Neil Young both have a long track record of standing up for the family farmers. And the threat to their farms these days more and more comes from the oil industry. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a double-threat whammy: it hits Nebraska livelihoods with the dangers of both oil spills and climate change. This concert comes at a time when the fight against tar sands is gaining momentum and showing real results on the ground with postponement and cancellation of tar sands projects. It also comes at a time when some in Congress are pushing for approval of Keystone XL over the head of the President even before a route has been legally identified in Nebraska. And it comes on the heels of the 400,000 strong climate march in New York City, making it clear that people are joining forces across the country to defend their land, water and climate. Keystone XL is a project that should never happen and it needs to be rejected.

When Neil Young joined Willie Nelson on stage and they sang “I went out walking, in the beautiful Sandhills...this land is made for you and me.  Let’s walk together and raise our voices, we’re gonna stand together for the world to see.”  The sold-out crowd of 8,000 stretched across the field to the teepees in the far back and sang along, standing tall.

Neil Young has said: “For our grandchildren’s survival we must begin to live differently. The Keystone XL pipeline is a large step in the wrong direction for the health of the earth. America must lead the world again and stop the Keystone XL.” Tar sands oil is the dirtiest around. It is strip-mined or heated out from under Canada’s majestic Boreal forest and from under the traditional territories of Canadian First Nations. The Keystone XL pipeline project would carry raw tar sands oil across America’s heartland, through Nebraska farms and ranches and the great Ogallala Aquifer to the Gulf coast where most would be destined for export overseas. It is a risky project with all the reward going to the big multi-national oil companies and the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada.

I was honored to stand with the landowners and indigenous leaders in Nebraska fighting for their land and water in the same way we all marched in New York City for action on climate change a week earlier. Come to Nebraska and talk to the farmers and ranchers. It makes it clearer than ever that President Obama should protect our precious land, water and climate by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Our gracious hosts Art and Helen Tanderup invited us onto the farm that their family has stewarded for 100 years. Art’s corn towered above my head, but he spoke about how the changing climate has already affected other crops like soybeans and he is concerned for the future of his farm.  BoldNebraska, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance - a group of ranchers, farmers and tribal communities from along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route - sponsored the concert. They’ve been strong fighters for a long time now to protect their lands, the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer that nourishes their lives.

TransCanada, the Canadian pipeline company that has been pushing this project on landowners, responded to the project with tired arguments about the relative safety of pipelines versus rail. The bottomline is that both pipelines and rail are not safe when it comes to tar sands oil. Safe is getting energy from the wind and the sun.

We also hear lots of mistaken arguments that the development of tar sands is inevitable. The truth is that companies are finding tar sands risky and expensive while communities are saying “no” to tar sands pipelines. The Norwegian oil company Statoil just shelved one of their in situ tar sands drilling projects for at least three years due to a lack of pipeline. This means that stopping the pipelines is keeping carbon in the ground and tar sands out of our farms. In fact since Neil Young launched the Honour the Treaties concert tour in Canada to help fight tar sands expansion, three major tar sands projects have been cancelled or postponed – Total’s Jocelyn mine, Shell’s Pierre River mine and Statoil’s Corner in situ drilling project.

Stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline makes a difference for communities in Nebraska and along the pipeline pathway. Real jobs are stake, jobs on many farms and ranches - more than a quarter of a million of them just in the five Great Plains states the tar sands pipeline would cross through. Those are the jobs that drive this region and feed the country and much of the world.  And it also makes a difference for communities in Canada suffering from tar sands extraction and communities around the world feeling the impacts of climate change to their health, homes and wallets.

The outpouring of opposition in Nebraska serves as a reminder to our nation’s leaders that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline still has no route through the state. Lawmakers in Washington DC should not try to take the decision away from the President and force Keystone XL on Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, landowners and indigenous communities.  And President Obama has an opportunity to do the right thing and listen to the people in Nebraska.  

Neil Young ended with his new song. He sang, “Who’s gonna stand up?” and the crowd sang back, “WE ARE.” Stand up for the Sand Hills, for the Ogallala Aquifer and for the climate on which we all depend.  As Neil says, “Stand up and save the earth.”

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Photos used with permission. Credit SCL at NRDC.