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As Sioux Tribe Calls Keystone XL an “Act of War”, TransCanada Hires PR Firm to Probe Critics

StoryNovember 19, 2014
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In a dramatic showdown Tuesday, the Senate narrowly missed a 60-vote threshold required to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Fourteen Democrats supported the measure along with all 45 Republicans. With just 59 aye votes, the measure failed to pass. After Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced the tally, a man reportedly with the Lakota Tribe of South Dakota burst out in song, followed by protesters who called out Democrats who voted in support of the pipeline. After Tuesday’s vote, Republicans vowed to immediately bring the bill back in January, when they will hold the Senate majority. This comes as newly leaked documents reveal the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline is engaged in a “perpetual campaign” to mobilize support for another pipeline connecting the tar sands oil fields to an ocean port, this one entirely inside Canada — bypassing opposition in the United States. Strategy documents drafted for TransCanada by the public relations firm Edelman, the world’s biggest privately held PR firm, also detail its lobbying strategy and efforts to mobilize some 35,000 supporters. We speak to Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and Suzanne Goldenberg, environment reporter at The Guardian.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “No KXL” by Bethany and Rufus. They were singing at a rally in downtown Manhattan ahead of Tuesday’s Senate’s vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in a dramatic showdown Tuesday, the Senate narrowly missed a 60-vote threshold required to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Fourteen Democrats supported the measure along with all 45 Republicans. With just 59 aye votes, the measure failed to pass. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren announced the tally.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Any senator wishing to vote or wishing to change a vote? If not, on this vote, the yeas are 59, the nays are 41. The 60-vote threshold having not been achieved, the bill is not passed.

LAKOTA MAN: [singing]

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Sergeant-at-arms will restore order. Order in the gallery.

AMY GOODMAN: After the vote was recorded, a man reportedly with the Lakota Tribe of South Dakota burst out in song, followed by protesters who called out Democrats who voted in support of the pipeline. The Keystone XL bill was sponsored by Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who faces a battle to keep her seat in a runoff next month against Republican Congressmember Bill Cassidy, who’s a sponsor of the pro-Keystone bill in the House. Senator Landrieu tried to rally her fellow Democrats during the debate before Tuesday’s vote.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that with our partners in Canada and Mexico, this can be done. And North America can be the super-energy powerhouse of the planet. What people in Louisiana want, what people in Texas want, what people in Mississippi want, what people in New Jersey want, what people in South Dakota and Illinois and Kansas and Vermont, are good-paying jobs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Among the Democrats who refused Senator Landrieu’s plea was Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She said Keystone XL stood for “extra lethal.” Boxer spoke moments before the vote.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m telling you, Madam President, as sure as I’m standing here, when the nurses stood with me and the public health doctors stood with me, and they said, “You know what? Let’s be very careful here, because this pipeline is going to unleash 45 percent more of the dirtiest, filthiest oil.” And that’s why I call it the “Keystone extra lethal” pipeline. And I hope we won’t vote it up today. I hope we’ll vote it down. I hope the president will veto it if it passes. And I will be on my feet, because I came here to protect people like this. Thank you, and I yield the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer was pointing to a large photograph next to her of a girl wearing an oxygen mask.

After Tuesday’s vote, Republicans vowed to immediately bring the bill back in January, when they’ll hold the Senate majority. This comes as newly leaked documents reveal TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, is engaged in a “perpetual campaign” to mobilize support for an entirely Canadian pipeline that could bypass opposition in the United States.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Cyril Scott is with us, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. And in Dallas, Suzanne Goldenberg is with us, U.S. environmental correspondent for The Guardian. Her recent piece is headlined “Revealed: Keystone company’s PR blitz to safeguard its backup plan.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Before we go to the documents, Cyril Scott, let’s start with you. Can you talk about your response to the defeat of Keystone XL—at least for now?

CYRIL SCOTT: First of all, good morning. Yeah, it was a great thing that happened yesterday. I want to thank all the people that voted to oppose it. But as we all know, the fight has just begun. The Republicans take the House in January. So, the fight has just started. We have to gear up and be ready and start our own campaign to make sure we secure enough support to stop this black snake that’s going to harm not only Indian country, but the United States of America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve declared the XL pipeline, if it goes through, a declaration of war against your people. Could you talk about why you feel that way?

CYRIL SCOTT: Yes, because we have to take care of our children and our grandchildren, as we are proposing to do, not only our children and our grandchildren, your children, your grandchildren. This thing is going to affect the biggest—the second-largest water aquifer in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer. We have to protect that at all costs to give your children and our children good, clean drinking water. Without that, you just can’t imagine what would happen if that Ogallala Aquifer was contaminated. It supplies water to six states here in the United States. It is one of the major water fairways here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Goldenberg, can you talk about the documents that were just revealed and how they were?

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: Well, the documents were obtained originally by Greenpeace Canada, which made them available to The Guardian and other news outlets. And these are interesting because they’re strategy documents drawn up by Edelman public relations, which is, you know, the biggest privately held PR firm in the world and was advising TransCanada on how to beat back opposition and get this second pipeline route through, through Canada.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That indicates that—the documents indicate, at least, that the company was already realizing that it was facing defeat coming through the United States. And Edelman has talked about employing as many as 40 people from its staff to work for the company to build so-called grassroots support for a new route to the east?

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: I don’t know. You know, I’m not privy to the inner thoughts of TransCanada. I don’t know whether they think that this is going to be defeated, but they aren’t taking any chances, and neither is the Canadian government or the oil companies that are invested in the Alberta tar sands. There is a tremendous pressure for the energy industry to get that tar sands oil out, to get it to market, because they can’t now. This is a tremendous source of carbon, and it’s landlocked, so they are looking for—you know, for routes to market anywhere.

And so, to doing that, you know, stung by the huge opposition that they encountered in—to the Keystone project, which has put that project on ice for six years, they’ve started to sort of get to place not—it goes beyond public relations, but a big sort of plan to get a second route through. They’re talking about mobilizing 34,000 activists. There’s a budget for mobilizing those activists in the strategy documents. They sort of say they need to apply intelligent pressure on community groups, environmental groups and scientific groups in Canada to—you know, essentially, opposition research to sort of stop them from coming out and saying why this pipeline is a bad idea, this pipeline that would go through Canada, in this case. So there’s a very big campaign here that goes far beyond what most people would think of as public relations. This isn’t about buying a few ads on TV. It’s not just about a website. It’s about a big astroturfing campaign to defeat this—to get this project through.

AMY GOODMAN: One part of the leaked documents, titled “Detailed Background Research on Key Opposition Groups,” reads, quote, “We will prepare a research profile of key opposition groups by examining public records … traditional media sources … and social media … All relevant findings will be compiled in a written, fully documented report, to include a summary of findings and an assessment of strengths and weaknesses. We will begin with the Council of Canadians. Other possibilities include Equiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation, Avaaz and Ecology Ottawa.” Suzanne Goldenberg?

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: Yes, that’s true. I mean, this is what would pass for—in, you know, political circles, this is opposition research. They’re trying to find out potential weak points on their opponents to use these to discredit their opponents, you know. And there’s another section in there where they talk about—where they talk about scientific reports, very fleetingly, you know, that would show that this project would be a bad idea because it would open up the tar sands to further development, and it would make climate change a lot worse. Some of the information they propose digging up is financial information. So, there’s a strategy here that hints at discrediting and embarrassing anybody who speaks up against this Energy East project, this alternative pipeline through Canada.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, I wanted to ask you about the recent signals from the White House, President Obama seeming a lot more skeptical about the pipeline, and then some unnamed sources saying after today’s vote that even if the Senate tries to bring it back up in January with the new Republican majority, that the president is likely to veto that, because he wants instead for a—he doesn’t want the Congress making this decision. He wants the scientific study and his final decision to hold sway. Are you encouraged by that?

CYRIL SCOTT: Yes, I am. I really encourage Native Americans—Indian country has put a lot of stock in our president, President Obama, so we support him, as he supports us today. And we are very excited that he has this veto power within him and that he is going to do the right thing, not only for Indian country, but for all Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Goldenberg, you report Edelman, the world’s privately—biggest privately held PR firm, has previously been drawn into controversies about its position on climate change. And you said that it declared on August 7th it would no longer take on campaigns that deny global warming. What is the Keystone XL relationship with global warming, as the Senate clearly will take this up again when Republicans control the Senate in just a few weeks?

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: Well, absolutely. The Alberta tar sands are one of the biggest stores of carbon on the planet, and the science on this is very clear. We cannot dig up all this oil and hope to avoid catastrophic climate change. There’s going to be a report coming out from the U.N. Environment Program in a couple of hours, later today, and it’s going to make that point again. We are on a road to busting through our carbon budgets. We’re burning up this oil much too fast, creating far too many greenhouse gas emissions, and we are not meeting the targets that science tells us we need to reach to avoid dangerous effects of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Cyril Scott, usually in South Dakota, now in Washington, your next step at this point? Mary Landrieu pushed very hard. She was also pushing for her own Senate seat. She’s in a runoff, and her opponent, a congressman, is the sponsor of the pro-Keystone XL pipeline bill in the House. What you’re planning to do? How you’re strategizing?

CYRIL SCOTT: Right now, we’re calling for the Oceti Sakowin, the Great Sioux Nation, to gather a couple—next week there in Rosebud to start our strategy, not only with the Great Sioux Nation, but also Bold Nebraska, 350.org and all of our supporters. We’re going to come up with a game plan also to keep the fight going. And all means, we need to stop this Keystone XL pipeline. We talk about jobs. It’s only—the CEO said it only creates 50 jobs. These are temporary jobs that go to journeymen, not to local economy. It’s people that are—I call them transients, that will be flooding into our state and onto our reservations to do harm within our state and our reservations.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’ll continue to cover this issue, of course. Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and Suzanne Goldenberg with The Guardian. We’ll link to your piece. She’s speaking to us from Dallas.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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