Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day 21

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 – Kelley, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

Even with much help from so many talented people, it’s a challenge to juggle all my obligations on this walk. I have been falling behind on posting many of the photographs I want to share with you. So, here is a selection from my walk across Polk and Story counties.

The pipeline would pass through ISU’s land, and many Story County residents don’t understand why the University’s leadership is not opposed. Certainly, most of the students and staff Dave and I spoke with are opposed.

Kathy Holdefer and Ed in front of a pipeline marker at the Polk-Jasper County line.

Kathy Holdefer and Ed in front of a pipeline marker at the Polk-Jasper County line.

Dying tree on the edge of a field near Farrar.

Dying tree on the edge of a field near Farrar.

My silhouette as the Sun sinks near Maxwell.

My silhouette as the Sun sinks near Maxwell.

The Sun setting due west on the spring equinox as I prepare to cross into Story County.

The Sun setting due west on the spring equinox as I prepare to cross into Story County.

Two big tom's chase me away from a house near Cambridge.

Two big tom’s chase me away from a house near Cambridge.

David Brotherson joins me for a full day's walk as we stop for our lunch break at the ISU dairy farm.

David Brotherson joins me for a full day’s walk as we stop for our lunch break at the ISU dairy farm.

Admiring a truly impressive composting operation. Note the steam!

Admiring a truly impressive composting operation. Note the steam!

Functional art, at least from a bird's point of view, also on ISU farm property.

Functional art, at least from a bird’s point of view, also on ISU farm property.

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Twenty

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 – Cambridge, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

Today is rainy and cold. I stop at a few homes, but people aren’t thrilled about talking at their door in this weather. My gear isn’t thrilled either. My raincoat fails to keep the goose-down jacket dry. My phone won’t work. The papers are soggy. The pen refuses to write.

So, I focus on walking, on staying warm, on thinking happy thoughts.

algore5My mind wanders to Al Gore, his leadership on climate change, his mince-no-words criticism of the big oil companies. I like Gore. A lot. I would totally have him over for dinner, make him an omelette, even let him hold one of my chickens.

Twenty-eight years ago, it was different. I first met Gore in 1987 when he was campaigning for President. He pointedly staked out positions that were far more pro-corporate than any of the other six Democratic candidates. He dissed the Iowa Caucuses. He seemed to relish offending Iowa Democrats with positions regarded as extreme and ultra-conservative.

If Gore’s strategy was to lose Iowa, he succeeded majestically, finishing dead last in a field of seven. Even “Uncommitted” scored higher than Gore.

During Gore’s eight years as Bill Clinton’s Vice President, I kept my expectations low and was not disappointed. The Telecommunications Act. The gutting of Glass-Steagall. NAFTA. Welfare reform. All were part of the big business agenda pushed by the Clinton-Gore administration.

When Gore ran for President in 2000, the theme continued, culminating in Gore’s selection of Joe Lieberman as his running mate. I was pretty sure Al Gore was destined to be a lifetime member of the “Ed’s Most Disliked Politicians” club.

chickens 20150322_141043Well, times change. People change. I can’t think of one prominent political leader during my lifetime who has exhibited such a dramatic transformation as Al Gore. Today, I would absolutely vote for Gore for President. I would vote for him for Pope, or even to take care of my chickens while I’m on this walk.

So, as I trudge through mud and rain, I am encouraged by the reality that people – and even governments and economies – can and do change dramatically.

Later, when I am warm and dry and in front of my computer, I read in its entirety Gore’s 2014 Rolling Stone column on America’s turning point on climate. As we fight to stop this pipeline from slashing through the heart of the most productive farmland in the world, a few of Gore’s quotes from that column give me renewed hope:

“We are witnessing the beginning of a massive shift to a new energy-distribution model – from the ‘central station’ utility-grid model that goes back to the 1880s to a ‘widely distributed’ model with rooftop solar cells, on-site and grid battery storage, and microgrids.”

“At the turn of the 21st century, some scoffed at projections that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010. That goal was exceeded 17 times over; last year it was exceeded 39 times over; and this year the world is on pace to exceed that benchmark as much as 55 times over.”

“The cost of wind energy is also plummeting, having dropped 43 percent in the United States since 2009 – making it now cheaper than coal for new generating capacity.”

“{Landline phone p}arallels have certainly caught the attention of the fossil-fuel industry and its investors: Eighteen months ago, the Edison Electric Institute described the floundering state of the once-proud landline-telephone companies as a grim predictor of what may soon be their fate.”

“There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action.”

Thank you, Mr. Gore, for helping me guard against despair. We may have a long ways to go, but we have come so far, so fast.

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Nineteen

Monday, March 23, 2015 – Farrar, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

I’ve seen plenty of “Gas Pipeline” markers during the course of this walk. Today, I saw my first “Oil Pipeline” marker – on the front lawn of a well-kept farm near Cambridge, Iowa. I wondered about that as I knocked on the door. I was greeted by Kenneth Larkin, and after introducing myself said, “I notice you’ve already got a pipeline running across your property.”

Kenneth Larkin

Kenneth Larkin

“No,” said Kenneth. “I’ve got five! One carries propane. Two that used to transport LP gas now run fiber optic. The fourth one, the one marked ‘Oil Pipeline,’ doesn’t really carry oil. It carries distillates – gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene – and they’re all running through the same pipe with a slug of water in between.”

I had no idea you could transport different fuels through the same pipeline at the same time, merely separated by water. Before Kenneth could tell me about the fifth pipeline, I had to ask:

“So, you’re pretty accustomed to pipelines. I suppose it doesn’t bother you to have one more running across your property?”

“No!,” he said. “I don’t like the pipe I’ve got. They’re dangerous. We had an explosion once.”

He went on to explain in great detail – and with evident mastery of the technical aspects – what caused the explosion to occur. I got out my computer and frantically tried to keep up with him. Failing miserably, I piece together the story as best I can:

The pipeline company takes electricity off the high line. They run it through a box with a wire that goes underground to where it’s attached to the pipeline. That reverses the polarity of the ions in the soil, and the pipeline grabs hold of those ions and expands. But the polarity reversal also eats holes in the copper tubing to Kenneth’s propane tank, and follows a line into the house where the propane meets up with the water heater. When the water heater kicks on . . .  KABOOM!

“Someone could have been killed if they’d been near the water heater,” mused Kenneth. “My wife, Judy, who has since passed away, had nick-knacks in the window and the explosion blew them clear out to the road ditch.”

I’m still reeling from Kenneth’s story when he says, “Nope. I don’t want this oil pipeline. 

I think that wind and solar are two of the bases that we should pursue more of. Why do we need fossil fuels? This country has advanced so far, but we’re still using more and more oil.”

In just over 30 minutes, this guy has become my latest hero. He’s against the pipeline for personal reasons AND gets the broader social and environmental concerns.

But I want closure on the explosion. “Did the company compensate you for damages?” I ask.

“Well, we just told them all we wanted was to have the house fixed,” said Kenneth. “They drug their feet and they drug their feet and they drug their feet. Close to a year passed, and our lawyer said we might just as well sue them. The day before we were supposed to go to court, I never will forget. This big, black Cadillac sedan pulls in, and three guys in three-piece business suits out of Tulsa, Oklahoma get out. They pull out one of those big check books. I showed them the bills for fixing the house, and they just wrote us a check, and that was that.”

A happy finish to a story that could have ended much worse. But I am still not satisfied.

“What about that fifth pipeline,” I probe.

“Oh, that one belongs to the Koch Brothers,” concluded Kenneth. “It’s empty.”

“Yeah, I know that,” I said. “Do you have any idea why it’s empty?”

Kenneth tells me about a conversation he had with a Magellan Pipeline Company worker. The guy told him that oil running through that pipeline was a product of fracking. It had salt in it. “That salt was supposedly rusting the seams on the inside of the pipes, and that’s why they’re not using them.” {Go to my Facebook page to see the video of Kenneth talking about it.}

I asked Kenneth if he felt we could stop this new pipeline from being built. “You don’t have enough money to stop them, and Branstad has already sold us down the water,” said Kenneth. “But if the company is not allowed to use eminent domain, then they can be stopped.”

“And as far as I’m concerned,” said Kenneth, “they ain’t coming on my property.”

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Eighteen

Friday, March 20, 2015 – Maxwell, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

{Ed talks about the Pipeline Walk with State Rep. Dan Kelley today at 11:00 a.m. on KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines) and online. Also, State Reps. Bruce Bearinger and Sally Stutsman discuss the House Rural Caucus – rebroadcast Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and KPVL 89.1 FM (Postville) at 7:00 p.m.}

On a daily basis, I am reminded of the importance of home. Many people’s opposition to the pipeline is rooted in a deep, often generational, attachment to the home place – to structures, land and shared memories that transform a tiny segment of Planet Earth into a treasure of incomparable value.

Today, I walk through Polk County, and the path of the proposed pipeline is as close to home as it gets. Along a high point in the road, I make out Des Moines’ skyline in the distance. I harbor no fondness for tall buildings, but as I gaze at them, I imagine nearby my home in Sherman Hill.

One of the toughest things about last year’s cross-country March was being away for nearly nine months. Even though the 40-day duration of the Pipeline Walk is short by comparison, it still weighs on me to be gone for so long – especially with the warmth of spring luring me to till soil, to plant crops.

Alberta Tar Sands

Alberta Tar Sands

The pipeline runs twenty miles from where I live. I tell folks I meet, “Just as the pipeline threatens your home, it threatens mine.” No matter where one lives on Planet Earth, the “black snake,” as Native Americans call it, threatens home. In Iowa, it threatens the topsoil in a 100-foot-wide swathe across 343 miles of the world’s richest farmland. It threatens Iowa’s water quality, already in poor condition from contaminants running off rural farms and urban lawns. Through the greenhouse gases unleashed into the atmosphere, the black snake threatens to render unlivable this beautiful, diverse fabric of life that connects and sustains us all.

Perhaps the most hideous place on Earth is the Alberta Tar Sands – a region the size of New York State. Compliments of exploiting the tar sands, Canada recently surpassed Brazil as the most heavily deforested country in the world. This devastated landscape used to be someone’s home. If we count non-human lives, as we should, it used to be home to countless someones.

In this hell on Earth where oil is now all that matters, what once was alive has been devastated almost beyond imagination. As I look at aerial photos of the tar sands region, Dante’s description of the third level of hell comes to mind: “The gluttons are punished here, lying in the filthy mixture of shadows and of putrid water. Because you consumed in excess, you meet your fate beneath the cold, dirty rain, amidst the other souls that there lay unhappily in the stinking mud.”

Raised BedBroccoli startsHens 2015 As I return home for the first full weekend since the start of the Walk, I will feel rejuvenated to dig in the soil, to plant seeds, to tend my hens. Monday, I resume walking Iowa’s gravel roads, doing my part to blaze a trail that leads away from hell on Earth. The path of the black snake is lined with power, money, greed and ignorance. It will take all of us working together to forge a path that respects land, water, home and life.

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Seventeen

Thursday, March 19, 2015 – Mingo, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

Walkin’ the Bakken is proving to be a bigger undertaking than I imagined. My deepest thanks to all of you along the route who have helped with logistics or who have walked with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Shari Hrdina

I also want to acknowledge three colleagues who are making a huge difference in the success of the Walk. Shari Hrdina, who served as the Administrative Director of the Great March for Climate Action, keeps all the pieces from falling through the cracks. And there are so many pieces! Shari is the glue behind the scenes, and we could not do this without her.

Peter Clay

Peter Clay hamming it up on last year’s Climate March

Peter Clay works with our local supporters along the route to organize meetings. Peter joined last year’s Climate March for 700 miles and is now instrumental as a volunteer with the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition. He continues to keep us networked and supporting each others’ efforts.

Landowners are asking lots of legal, procedural and technical questions that I can’t answer. Managing this critical task is David Goodner of the Des Moines Catholic Worker. David is one of the most promising young organizers I know, and he’s getting back in touch with the hundreds of landowners and rural Iowans I’ve met along the Walk.

David Goodner

David Goodner

Of course, with legal questions, it helps to have . . . a lawyer! Several experienced attorneys are working with landowners and other parties opposed to the pipeline. Wally Taylor with the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and I recently discussed the contracts signed by landowners – many of whom are opposed to the pipeline. Here’s what Wally shared:

“A number of attorneys agree that the easements landowners are signing or being asked to sign by Dakota Access have serious problems that adversely impact landowners. In fact, for landowners who have already signed easements, they could declare the leases null and void. Landowners should not sign anything until they have discussed the easements with an attorney. Review by an attorney would only require a short conference that would not be very expensive but would save the landowners a lot of heartache.

“We have also discovered that Dakota Access is now presenting an addendum to the easement to provide insurance coverage. The insurance allegedly covers liability of the company up to $5 million per year. This is per occurrence, not per landowner. There is also an additional umbrella coverage for another $5 million. One problem with this is that $10 million doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of cleanup.

Wally Taylor

Wally Taylor

“Other pipeline spills have incurred costs of hundreds of millions of dollars, or even over a billion dollars. Another problem is that this is an insurance policy. Anyone who has dealt with insurance companies knows that the company will either deny coverage or try to limit the amount of the insurance payment. A landowner would have to take legal action to be properly compensated, involving great time and expense.”

More and more Iowans are stepping forward to help defeat this pipeline. Perhaps you are already engaged as well. If not, and if you’d like a niche in this critical undertaking, let me know and we’ll make it happen!

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Sixteen

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 – Colfax, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

I saw something today that I hadn’t seen since walking across Arizona and New Mexico last year. No, it wasn’t a saguaro cactus, rattlesnake or horny toad.

It was a family living off the grid!

off grid 20140423_125043

off grid rattlesnake 20140410_103928off grid lizard 20140420_115417

During last year’s coast-to-coast Climate March, I met dozens of people powering their homes and businesses entirely with solar and wind. (Here’s a picture of one, and for fun, pictures of the rattlesnake that interrupted my lunch and a horny toad I rescued from the highway.)

David Osterberg

David Osterberg

Today, my good friend and former Iowa lawmaker, David Osterberg, joined me for the ten-mile trek through Jasper County. When we saw the wind turbine and solar panels in front of the small, well-kept home, we knew we were likely to find pipeline opponents.

We were not disappointed. Sherman and Sue greeted us warmly at the door and explained that their wind turbine and two solar panels paid for themselves in seven years.

“If I put up just one more solar panel,” explained Sherman, “we should be totally off the grid. The cost factor appeals to us, and we think it’s important to be green.”

Ed, Sherman and Sue

Ed, Sherman and Sue

Sherman and Sue offered us a place to sit and brought coffee.  As we were about to leave, Sherman let us know that he and his wife were Christians. “The good Lord has asked us to be as thrifty as we can, and to be good stewards of the land. Is this pipeline they want to build just for money and oil? Is that really what God wants us to do? My feeling is he wants us to be good to our neighbors, good to the land.”

My walk across Iowa is planned to take 40 days. The focus is to put the brakes on a bad idea – the proposed pipeline. Yet it’s equally important to lift up the positive investments being made – by goverment, business and individuals like Sherman and Sue – demonstrating that renewable energy is the answer to both our present and future power needs.

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Fifteen

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 – Reasnor, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

The path of the pipeline tracks close to the Newton Correctional Facility, and my road leads me to the prison’s front gate. Like a tourist snapping his photo in front of the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal, I decide this is an opportune moment for a selfie. In the scant minute it takes me to position myself in front of the prison’s bright blue sign, a large security guard in a comparably large SUV races from the prison walls and pulls in front of me.

Newton Correctional Facility

Newton Correctional Facility

He demands to know who I am and what I am doing. He mumbles something about officials being nervous when people take pictures in front of the prison, about how those pictures could aid a prisoner plotting an escape. (I learn from a woman living near the prison that the last escape was 1953.) I ask if the pipeline would come through the prison’s grounds. He tells me “no,” his body language making it clear that the conversation is over and that I should move along.

I continue to walk, and think about another pipeline. One fashioned by government. One that now ships more people to prison than ever before. The U.S. prison population has risen 700% since 1970. With only 5% of the world’s population, our country houses 25% of the world’s prisoners! The number of inmates in Iowa prisons is on track to hit 10,000 in 2015, up from 2,700 in 1986.

Yes, I know there are violent people who belong in prison. In the mid-1990s, I lived behind a guy who killed two of my neighbors. When his rap sheet came to light after the crime, we couldn’t understand why he was not already locked away. But his ilk are a small percentage of those behind bars. The bulk are non-violent offenders, incarcerated in a criminal-justice system increasingly driven by fear, money and jobs.

My thoughts are interrupted by a pick-up truck driver slowing down in front of me. He’s wearing camouflage and a “Case IH” hat. He pulls over on the downwind side of the road, and gruffly inquires as to what I’m up to. When I explain, he goes on to extol the virtues of pipelines. He spouts an admittedly impressive string of pipeline facts, and laughs as he says, “I know a thing or two, don’t I. And that makes me dangerous.”

Pipeline marker

Pipeline marker

“I’m learning a thing or two every day,” I reply. “And when I’m done with this walk, I’ll be as dangerous as you!”

He got a kick out of that, and we both chuckled as a semi passed, sending a thick cloud of dust our way. The man rolled up his window. My only line of defense was to close my eyes and hold my breath as I felt a thick blanket of dust coat my face and hands. Four vehicles would pass during the course of our conversation.

When the dust from the semi settled, I shifted the talk from pipelines to climate change. I was not in a mood to pull any punches, not inclined to sugar-coat the message: “Scientists are emphatic that we’ve got a crisis on our hands. We’re at 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Across the globe, we’re seeing the hottest years on record. Fossil fuels are the problem, and we’ve got a world of hurt coming our way.”

For the first time in our conversation, the man looked reflective, less “dangerous.” After a pause, he said, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because I’ll be dead by the time things get really bad.”

I felt an instant wave of sadness wash over me. “I’m not a grandfather yet,” I offered, “but I probably will be some day. And I want my grandkids and their kids to have a life worth living.”

I felt the man soften a bit further. He told me he had a grandson, age five. His voice trailed off. As I prepared to head down the road, I told him to send that grandkid my way when he gets a little older and he and I can work on saving the world together. “Nothing takes the sting out of despair like getting involved,” I concluded.

Such conversations are difficult. Disturbing. Regrettably frequent. Sometimes they roll off my back. This one settled on me like a layer of gravel-road dust. I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t wrap my mind around the “I’ll be dead so I don’t give a damn” attitude. Yet with this man, as with some of the other cynical types I had encountered over the past three weeks, there emerged in the end a smidgeon of compassion, an acknowledgement of concern for the future, for life beyond one’s own fence rows.

“You take care, Ed,” said the man, addressing me by name as I walked away. I took that as an indication that we had bonded just a bit – perhaps not over pipelines, but over grandchildren and dust.

Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz

Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz

Tree carnage

Tree carnage

The highlight of the day’s walk was meeting Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz,a University of Iowa student who rolled her bike along while we walked and talked. Vanessa is conducting interviews as part of an oral history project on climate solidarity. Continue Reading →

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Fourteen

Monday, March 16, 2015 – Galesburg, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

What a great start to the day: The Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation) has registered its opposition to the Bakken Oil Pipeline! This is significant. Native American resistance to the Keystone Pipeline has played a prominent role in stopping that project in Nebraska. Across the country, the influence of Native Americans continues to grow as they vocally express their concern for the land, water and planet.

Photo by Steve Martin

Photo by Steve Martin

In her letter to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), Tribal Chairwoman Judith Bender writes, “It will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years.” (Read more in Indian Country Today Media Network.) It is encouraging to see such concern for the big picture – both in terms of time and geography. The pipeline does not go through Meskwaki land in Tama County. Yet the Tribe feels an obligation to speak out, not just about the immediate impact, but about the future over “the next thousands of years.” Continue Reading →

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Thirteen

Saturday, March 14, 2015 – Mahaska/Jasper County line
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

Today marks 150 miles of walking as I step into the seventh county along the pipeline route. A heartfelt “Thank you!” to State Rep. Dan Kelley and Kathy Holdefer (a landowner near Mingo), who each organized a meeting today with landowners and other concerned Jasper County residents.

At a 7:00 a.m. meeting at Uncle Nancy’s on the Newton town square, Dan spoke about his strong opposition to the pipeline. He has introduced legislation and also signed a letter from 15 lawmakers to the Iowa Utilities Board calling for an environmental impact assessment.

Today, Dan surprised me with a new angle that throws a whole new wrinkle into the pipeline conversation.

State Rep. Dan Kelley

State Rep. Dan Kelley

Apparently, no one had ever asked the Iowa Utilities Board’s staff if there already existed in Iowa another oil pipeline. Dan asked, and was told that there was, indeed, one other crude oil pipeline running through Iowa.

This pipeline travels north-south, roughly following I-35. It was built in the 1950s and is now owned by the infamous Koch Brothers. It was mothballed in 2013.

“I don’t want an oil pipeline running through Iowa,” said Dan. “But if Dakota Access wants to build one, why tear-up farmland diagonally across Iowa when there’s already an established right of way?”

Continue Reading →

Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day Twelve

Friday, March 13, 2015 – Northeast of Pella, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

It was a delight to have a group of Central College students join me this morning. As we wove our way through the fog and mud, they shared their plans, journeys and hopes for the future.

Photo by Steve Martin

Photo by Steve Martin

Photo by Steve Martin

Photo by Steve Martin

As happens with nearly every day of the Walk, I came away with a memorable encounter with someone living along the route. A man was unable to visit with me at his door, but later took the time to write this moving note:

“I want to thank you for your short visit to my home this morning. In the five years that I have lived in this house, you are the fourth person who has appeared at my door (other than family). You were the first to use the front door!

“Needless to say, I was delighted to meet you, to learn about your walk across the state, and its purpose. My wife and I appreciate your help in this matter, as we believe that the pipeline, if built, will endanger some of the most productive land in the world, the health of those living near it, and that the claim that it will ‘create jobs’ for Iowa citizens, is a load of crap.

Continue Reading →