Nebraskan Politics Interview: Bold Nebraska on TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline

Thank you to Ben Gotschall of Bold Nebraska for the interview and taking time during the holidays to work on it.

The interview will be posted in three sections (Background Information, Contested Areas, Events and Connect).

NP: Please tell me a little about yourself.

BG: Pipeline Outreach, Ben Gotschall:

Ben was born and raised on a cattle ranch in the Sandhills of southwest Holt County, Nebraska.  Although most of his occupations have been agricultural, he has also published a full-length book of poetry and taught college English.  He continues maintain a connection to the Sandhills, running his own cattle business and helping his family manage the ranch, while finding the time to write, play music, and work on behalf of farmers and ranchers with the Nebraska Farmers Union and other organizations.

NP: How did you come to join Bold Nebraska?

BG: For me, the Keystone XL pipeline fight in Nebraska began over a year ago, in May 2010, when I attended a public hearing on the State Department’s Draft Environmental
Impact Statement in York.  When I saw the map of the proposed pipeline route and realized that it would cut through the Sandhills of Holt County, the land I loved that birthed me and had been taken care of by my family for generations, there was no looking back.  I knew I would do anything I could to stop it.

Also at that hearing, I met Jane Kleeb, whose organization Bold Nebraska was just starting to pay attention to the pipeline issue but had yet to become involved.  After the hearing, I began tracking the issue in the media, posting links and articles on Facebook, trying to raise awareness and get people involved in the fight to protect Nebraska’s most important resources, and Jane was one of the people who responded most often.

Jane and I first worked together on the pipeline issue by putting together an ad in the Prairie Fire, a progressive newspaper of the Plains.  The ad featured an image of me that Bold Nebraska then used in their ad campaign, and I sort of became Bold Nebraska’s poster-boy for the pipeline issue.

Other environmental organizations soon picked up on the pipeline issue, as did the press.  Beginning in late May of 2010, I began to do numerous interviews and was featured in a couple of reports done by the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club.  In July 2010, I traveled to Washington, D.C. with a group of individuals to attend meetings with the EPA, the Department of Transportation, and state elected officials.  The trip culminated in an NPR interview, in which I discussed threats to the Ogallala aquifer and explained that the pipeline was not a done deal because the State Department hadn’t approved the project proposal.

The next day I received a phone call from David Daniel, a carpenter in Texas who had been dealing with TransCanada and had signed an easement with them, mostly out of frustration and despair.  He asked me if it was really true–if we really could keep fighting the pipeline with a chance of stopping it–and I said Yes.  Since then, David has been on fire, and is truly an amazing advocate and activist who uses passion and intelligence to fight the pipeline that threatens his home and the land he loves.  David started a group named Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (STOP), which has done a lot in Texas to raise awareness and fight the pipeline.

Although I moved in May 2010 to Missouri to help manage a ranch in the Ozarks, I still remained active in the pipeline fight from a distance, and this is when Jane and Bold Nebraska really took the ball and began focusing their efforts and energy on an all-out campaign against the pipeline.  Jane and Bold have done an excellent job of holding rallies,
raising awareness, and calling out Nebraska elected officials who have been reluctant to stand up to TransCanada or in some case like Rep. Terry (R-NE2), have all out embraced TransCanada’s risky pipeline.

In March 2011, I again travelled to D.C. with a large group of Nebraskans and a coalition of individuals and organizations from multiple states to talk to the State Department, the EPA, and state elected officials.  I met David Daniel for the first time, and also met Randy Thompson, a landowner from Nebraska who had recently become very vocal in his opposition to the pipeline.  Randy has refused to sign an easement with TransCanada.  He is truly an inspiration to me and many other Nebraskans, and Bold Nebraska’s Stand With Randy campaign has proven to be a hugely successful awareness-raising efforts, and one that I’m honored to be part of.

I moved back to Nebraska in April 2011, and since then I have joined the crew at Bold Nebraska as a contributor and director of pipeline outreach. Together, with Randy, Mary Pipher,  and a host of other inspiring and energetic individuals and organizations such as the Nebraska Sierra Club, the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, and the Nebraska Farmers Union, we are continuing to build momentum in the state of Nebraska, which has gained a
rockstar reputation in D.C. for our solidarity, inventiveness, passion and power.

NP: What is Bold Nebraska?

BG: Bold Nebraska is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to restoring political balance and changing the political landscape in Nebraska.

NP: Why has Bold Nebraska objected to the Keystone XL pipeline?

BG: Because Nebraskans feel that they have been mistreated by TransCanada and because we feel this pipeline is not in the national interest.

NP: Why is tar sands oil production different than other forms?

BG: It destroys wildlife habitat, pollutes water, and endangers communities.

NP: Who is Randy and why should we stand with him?

BG: Randy is a landowner from Nebraska who has refused TransCanada’s easement offers.  He has been outspoken and active in the pipeline fight.  He is a self-described “pi**d-off farmer” and we stand with him because he represents hundreds of other landowners and gives them a voice.

The next installment will be tomorrow.