Last night, the Senate voted on the Keystone XL pipeline — and with only 59 votes, the bill failed. (In the current political climate, it takes 60 votes to make a bill filibuster-proof so that it actually passes.)
Right after the announcement, things got loud on the Senate floor. Someone from the gallery broke out into song. Although the C-SPAN cameras didn’t show them, someone was singing loudly in the Dakota/Lakota language from the gallery up above. That someone was Greg Grey Cloud, a member of the Dakota/Lakota Nation from the Rosebud Sioux reservation.
See, in some ways, the Keystone pipeline is a symbol. If President Obama lets the pipeline pass, it shows us that he isn’t actually the president who cares the most about climate change — even if he makes major agreements on climate change pollution with China or releases the Clean Power Plan for the EPA. If he lets the Keystone XL tar sands pipe be built, he’ll be undoing so much good work, cancelling it out with a fuel even dirtier than oil.
But to Greg Grey Cloud, this isn’t a symbol. This is a weapon of war. That’s what the president of the Sioux Nation called this Congressional vote – an act of war. Because the pipeline would violate treaties that protect sovereign Sioux land. TransCanada may have knocked on the doors of Nebraska farmers to ask permission, but they didn’t knock on any Sioux doors. Because, as Greg explained to me earlier this week, pipeline construction would bring thousands of men in “man camps” to live on their land, uninvited.
The Keystone pipeline isn’t just a symbol to me either. I’ve met Greg, and I’ve met farmers from the Heartland whose eyes well up with tears when they talk about where the pipeline would cross their land. I also know God cares deeply about this land that would be spoiled by inevitable pipeline spills.
It seems to be a symbol to the pro-pipeline members of Congress though. Just a few minutes after the pipeline vote failed, soon-to-be Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the floor to assure everyone that this would be brought up first thing when the new Congress starts its session in January.
Like Greg Grey Cloud, I’m celebrating this victory for God’s creation and for the vulnerable Native Americans living in the pipeline’s proposed path. But like Greg, I know the fight continues.
If you haven’t signed up for our climate activist email list yet, I hope you will. That way we can alert you when there’s another vote, when our politicians will need to hear from us yet again.
Liz Schmitt is Creation Care Campaign Associate for Sojourners.