In the fields of Nebraska, Jane Kleeb has grown an unlikely, bipartisan coalition of farmers, ranchers, tribes and environmental advocates to fight an international pipeline.
By Gail Ablow / 09.20.2017
Jane Kleeb is a prairie populist. In 2010, she founded the grass-roots organization Bold Nebraska to fight for progressive issues in the red state of Nebraska. Within a few months, Kleeb learned about a pipeline proposed by TransCanada, and she has been fighting it ever since.
Known as Keystone XL (not to be confused with the Dakota Access Pipeline that was challenged at Standing Rock) this pipeline would run from Canada to Nebraska’s border with Kansas. It threatens the property rights of farmers and ranchers; the sovereign rights of tribes; the Sandhills, a unique stretch of dunes and grass that covers a quarter of the state and provides habitat for wildlife and recharges the aquifer; and the Ogallala Aquifer itself, an immense underground reservoir of fresh water that supplies the entire region.
Kleeb was new to pipeline politics, but she wasn’t new to activism. Her mother was a pro-life activist in Florida where she grew up. And while Kleeb didn’t share her mother’s views, she said she learned from an early age to have “one foot in grass-roots activism and the other foot in partisan politics and policy” to move issues forward. Kleeb married into a Nebraska cattle ranching family and has seen families driven off their land by big corporations. “For me, Keystone was a moment where we drew a line in the sand and said, ‘No more, not this time, not this group of people,” she said.
In the past eight years, Kleeb has built a coalition of farmers, ranchers, tribes and climate advocates who are fighting the pipeline in the fields, in the streets, in court, and before the Nebraska Public Service Commission. In fact, Bold Nebraska pushed for the law requiring that the state commission (not the governor or the federal government) approve the permit if the project is to move forward. A ruling is expected by the end of November.