A state senator in Lincoln, Neb., who wasn’t afraid to sue God is doing what he can to stop TransCanada from taking over the last of the land it needs to build the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska.
At the same time, landowners opposed to the pipeline have gone back to the Nebraska Supreme Court for the second round in their fight against the pipeline.
A Native American tribe still says Keystone XL would be an act of war, and the man putting it all together for TransCanada hopes everyone involved can make this work.
TransCanada plans to run the pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to a TransCanada network junction in the southeast corner of Nebraska.
But that won’t happen if Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers has anything to say about it.
This consistent opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline has introduced legislation intended to repeal the Nebraska law that gave TransCanada the right to use eminent domain to take over the property it needs in Nebraska.
Quixotic? Maybe so, but this is the kind of fight Chambers knows how to win.
Chambers has always been a lone voice in the wilderness of the Nebraska Legislature. However, the 75 year old who lists his occupation as “Defender of the Downtrodden” on his Legislature web page has also been able to win several major victories.
It was Chambers who successfully led a drive to outlaw corporal punishment in Nebraska schools.
Described as the “Omaha Maverick” by Mother Jones magazine, Chambers also blocked attempts to approve a constitutional amendment to protect hunting in Nebraska.
Still, Chambers has been willing to wage fights for what he must know are lost causes.
For instance, Chambers sued God in 2007.
He sought a permanent injunction ordering God to “cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats…of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent.”
Chambers accused God of causing hurricanes, tornadoes and countless tragedies and laughing about it.
Now, this man who wears T-shirts while others around him in the Nebraska Legislature are dressed in suits and ties is doing what he can to block the Keystone XL pipeline.
Chambers has introduced Legislative Bill 473 to specifically block the Keystone XL pipeline. It would repeal the right of eminent domain that was granted to TransCanada to take over property to build the pipeline.
“The pipeline is like King Kong, and the people and farms are like ants and grasshoppers,” Chambers told The Guardian. “If they get in the way, they will be crushed with no redress.”
Chambers is not alone in this struggle that is becoming as much about the rights of private landowners as it is the environment.
Three landowners whose Nebraska property is in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline are going back to court for a second try at blocking the siting of the pipeline.
They lost their first case before the Nebraska Supreme Court earlier this month, but said in a court filing the seven-judge panel missed key facts in the case.
Attorneys for the landowners argued former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) should not have been able to determine the route of the pipeline, a right granted to him by the Nebraska Legislature.
The landowners were able to convince four of the seven state Supreme Court justices of their argument. If they had been able to win over a fifth justice, the landowners would have prevailed. They did not.
The three judges who sided with TransCanada ruled the landowners did not make the case that they would be hurt by the pipeline’s construction or operation.
David Domina, the lead attorney for the landowners, called that line of thought “mortally flawed.”
The landowners’ request for a Supreme Court rehearing came on the same day TransCanada announced its lawyers would file the eminent domain claims Sen. Chambers wants to block, in nine Nebraska counties.
The property outlined in those requests is the last 12 percent of Nebraska land it needs to build the 1,179-mile pipeline.
Even though he is lined up against a man who sued God, angry ranchers and even a Native American tribe that sees the Keystone XL as an act of war, Andrew Craig, TransCanada’s land manager for the Keystone project, still sees himself as a man of peace.
He told the Los Angeles Times TransCanada would still work toward a voluntary agreement with landowners.
“Our goal today is that, over the next six months, we are able to address any concerns they have about the project,” said Craig. “The current landowner will continue to own the land.”
Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska, told Indian Country Today the landowners would match TransCanada lawsuit for lawsuit in the court and are ready to take the fight to the one person she believes could settle it for good: President Obama.
“Farmers and ranchers have the grit and stomach to prevent TransCanada from polluting our water.”