Who is standing up to the Keystone Pipeline?
Few topics in Washington have proved to be as contentious as the Keystone XL pipeline. Proposed by Canadian energy company TransCanada, an extension of the pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Alberta would pass through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, ultimately arriving at refineries around the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters of the pipeline trumpet the jobs a big energy infrastructure project can produce, while opponents are quick to point out the environmental impacts of transporting tar sand crude across North America.
Efforts to approve the pipeline have had mixed success in Congress, where a bill failed in the then-Democrat-controlled Senate last year, but the Republican-run House recently passed a bill earlier this year. However, even if the newly Republican-controlled Senate were to send a completed bill to the White House, President Barack Obama has pledged a veto.
Nowhere has the debate been as elevated as it has been in Nebraska. More than 100 landowners have refused to grant right-of-way easements on their land to TransCanada, a fight that has been recently playing out in the Nebraska Supreme Court. Earlier this month, justices dismissed a lawsuit brought by landowners because the seven judge court couldn’t come to the five-person majority needed to overturn the state’s law which permitted the pipeline. At 4-3, Nebraska’s current law allowing the Keystone XL pipeline stood. Following that ruling, several landowners have sued again, in hopes of overturning the state law. And as of Jan. 20, TransCanada began legal action to invoke eminent domain against the landowners who have refused to give up their land.
Houston-based photographer Eric Kayne was drawn to photograph Nebraska back in the 1990’s when studying photography. His professor, the artist Lawrence McFarland, focused in part on the landscapes of the Midwest, in particular Nebraska, which Kayne describes as having a “mystic” beauty.
“It’s not a part of the country that’s normally explored [photographically],” he says, “It’s almost as though there’s an anti-exoticism about the midwest … but at the same time, it’s beautiful and for lack of a better word, there’s something spiritual there.” It was with that image of Nebraska in mind that Kayne set out to not just photograph the physical space the pipeline will cut through, but also the landowners affected.
“I don’t think any of these people consider themselves activists” Kayne says, “They farm or ranch the land, just like their parents or grandparents did and they’re just trying to keep it for future generations.” Above all, as many in interviews mentioned, they see themselves a “stewards of the land.”