Sure, Montana might be the Big Sky state, but the sky’s pretty big in Nebraska, too. And while they’ve got the Grizz in Missoula, we’ve got the Huskers in Lincoln. Although we don’t have mountains, we do have the Sandhills, and under those Sandhills is the Ogallala aquifer. One thing Nebraska and Montana definitely have in common is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would cut through beautiful and sensitive environmental areas of both states.

Both states also have existing oil pipelines already in the ground, and these oil pipelines have leaked, sometimes quite significantly. The Keystone I pipeline in Nebraska has leaked a dozen times in the past year (though not all in Nebraska), and recently, an Exxon-Mobil pipeline broke and spilled at least 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) into the Yellowstone River.

Nebraskans as well as Montanans are upset about these events, but what is interesting to note is that there is a bit of a difference in the reactions and, more importantly, the actions taken by people from each state. To quote a T-shirt a friend of mine from Missoula gave me once, “Montana is for badasses.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m proud to be a native Nebraskan. The Sandhills will always be the place I call home, and on football game days I bleed Husker red. When it comes to opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, many of my fellow Nebraskans have stepped up and made their voices heard from the state capitol in Lincoln to our nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C. But in the past month, Montanans have done some things that are, well, pretty bad-ass.

Most recently, a Montana judge ordered Big Oil companies Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil to stop using Highway 12 as a hauling corridor for transporting heavy oilfield equipment. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of driving along Highway 12 in Montana, it is the original route of Lewis and Clark, and has some of the most scenic views of any road I’ve traveled: beautiful mountain vistas, dense forests, rock formations, and rivers that are so clean and clear that you can see the pebbles on the bottom while driving by.

What people in Montana demanded, and what their leaders gave them, was a protection from damages to public and private property. We can demand, and have been demanding, the same thing in Nebraska. We thank Sens. Johanns and Nelson and Rep. Fortenberry for their efforts to protect Nebraska land and resources from the Keystone XL pipeline. However, some of our state leaders are apparently fine with TransCanada bullying and bulldozing its way through Nebraska in its quest for foreign-oil profits.

For example, Rep. Lee Terry introduced a reckless bill that would rush a State Department decision on the pipeline permit. A hasty decision with no regard for the safety of Nebraska’s land, water, and people? Sorry, Lee. Not very bad-ass.

And, although Gov. Dave Heineman finally broke his silence on the pipeline issue, he has yet to actually do anything about it. In fact, when compared to outspoken Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, who has demanded that ExxonMobil be forthright and transparent about the risks and damages from the Yellowstone spill, Gov. Heineman is downright timid, apparently not alarmed at all by the very real risks posed by a new pipeline crossing many rivers and the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska. Definitely not bad-ass.

Nebraskans aren’t alone in believing their governor isn’t doing enough to protect them from the dangers of the TransCanada pipeline. A couple of weeks ago, protestors in Helena occupied Gov. Schweitzer’s office, asking that he rescind his support of the Keystone XL, and when he wasn’t willing to do so, they had their own dance party, some even jumping on tables to shake a leg in opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL. Occupying the governor’s office? Dancing on tables? Dang. Montana has raised the bad-ass bar a couple of notches.

What are we Nebraskans to do if we don’t want to appear to be Montana’s mountain-less, timid, Cornhusking cousins to the southeast?

Well, the good news is, we don’t have to resort to cultivating dreadlocks instead of corn rows, or even to table-dancing, for that matter. There are some very important, very fun, and, yes, very bad-ass events coming up that we Nebraskans can do to up our street cred amongst our hard-nosed Western neighbors.

  • Secondly: there is still much to do at the state and local level. You can still write and call leaders, especially Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith and Gov. Heineman, to let them know you want them to work for the protection of our state’s resources. You can attend county meetings like the one in York County this week, July 26th at 10:30 a.m. in the basement of the York County Courthouse, and give comments on the pipeline. 

Whatever you choose to do, just know that you are helping to prove that Nebraskans care about their state, its beauty and its resources just as much as Montanans do. But just remember: every action you take tips the bad-ass scale a little more in Nebraska’s favor!