Last Tuesday, the controversial Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea began pumping natural gas from Russia into Germany. Two days later, President Barack Obama delayed his decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would cut through the Nebraska Sand Hills. The objections to both pipelines reveal American and European conceptions of that age-old union of liberty and property. European states pursue property regardless of their citizens’ liberties, whereas Americans closely guard their liberty and property through individualism.
Concerning the Nord Stream, Eastern Europe protested that Russia’s pipeline would bypass them and deliver gas directly to Western Europe. In 2006, Poland’s then-Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski compared the Nord Stream to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that infamous, 1939 treaty where Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union defined their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.
But Poland was not the only country feeling left out by the proposed pipeline. Since it ran through international waters, all bordering states had to approve. Finland, Sweden, and Latvia proposed overland alternatives citing environmental concerns. But Gazprom CEO Matthias Warnig said in 2008 that the Baltic Sea plans would not be deterred: "The order is not — and it's not up for debate — to have an overland route as an alternative solution for Nord Stream."
These European states were fighting to have the Nord Stream run through their backyards. They feared an exclusive Russo-German pipeline, whereby Russia could singularly control energy supplies to western Europe. That fear is now a reality. Jump one hemisphere west to the the proposed American-Canadian Keystone XL pipeline, and the debate is one of "not in my backyard."
Far different from European protests, according to the Los Angeles Times, Nebraskan ranchers “signed petitions, testified at public hearings, and [drove] officials from the U.S. State Department, which will decide on a permit for the pipeline, out across the Sand Hills in their pickup trucks.”
The ranchers fear that an oil pipeline running through the Nebraskan Sand Hills will contaminate the region’s aquifer. Environmentalists rallied, and Obama delayed his approval. I think this shows the relative power of individuals in America to effect change at the highest levels. While European states argued about pipelines from the top down, American ranchers argued to protect their liberty and property, effecting change from the bottom up.
Just examine the words of one of those American opponents of the Keystone XL, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke. Last week, he responded to Obama's delay, saying, “The president's decision also means that our property, water, and agricultural lands cannot be stripped from us without a fight.”
Americans seem to like keeping their backyards their own. In this instance, it is protecting the environment in a way that broad corporate and international plans would not, but that’s only because those ranchers are self-interested to protect their own drinking water. Broadly, corporate and national interests would have pipelines built wherever necessary. It is up to individuals to protect their own property by lobbying their governments. Perhaps the ranchers have won Obama’s support this time.