Fight erupts over pipeline builders and sexual assaults
This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska chapter of Americans for Prosperity is calling on the leader of a pipeline opposition group to apologize for suggesting temporary construction workers who would build the proposed Keystone XL pipeline might sexually assault women who live nearby.
AFP-Nebraska points to a news release sent out Monday by Bold Nebraska that cites a Washington Post story about an alliance of Native American groups that have vowed to make a last stand if the pipeline is approved. The Post story said the groups are concerned about water pollution, environmental issues and the “risk of sexual assault by the thousands of temporary construction workers housed in work camps on tribal land.”
Bold Nebraska, which has organized opposition to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, sent out an email to media Monday alerting reporters to the Post story, with a summary.
KLIN’s afternoon talk show host, Kevin Thomas, responded on Twitter saying, “Bold Nebraska issued a press release today opposing (Keystone XL) because they say the construction workers might be rapists. Offensive and sad.”
Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska also responded by demanding that Bold Nebraska apologize to laborers for “libelous statements.”
“Jane Kleeb and Bold Nebraska have run out of arguments against the pipeline, so now they will defame hard working men and women who will build the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Matt Litt, director of AFP-Nebraska. “These men and women are trying to provide for their families and themselves and Bold Nebraska has the gall to call them just short of rapists. These are their fellow Nebraskans.”
Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, responded by saying she didn’t issue a “press release” but a memo to reporters to highlight the Post story, and Bold Nebraska never called construction workers “rapists.” But she said “sexual violence is a major issue with man camps and tribes.” “Sexual assault” doesn’t necessarily mean “rape” under the law.
Man camps are temporary villages for workers in places where work has outpaced housing, such as oil patches. If Keystone XL is approved, man camps are expected to be built along the route to house construction workers.
These work camps are commonplace in North Dakota’s booming oil patch, and a studyby North Dakota and Montana authorities last year found crime has shot up 32 percent in their oil boomtowns since 2005.
Particularly shocking to the low-crime state was the disappearance of a 30-year-old North Dakota man and the abduction and strangling of an eastern Montana math teacher who had been jogging. Two Colorado drifters looking for work have been charged with the teacher’s death.
As more oil has been extracted from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, crime has risen. Although with more population comes more crime. North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said in a recent interview, “We’ve seen an increase in population in the western part of the state and more people equals more crime. It’s as simple as that.”
Kleeb accused AFP and Thomas of lying, saying she never called construction workers rapists. She said the memo was sent to reporters “to highlight a well-documented concern of tribes and women.”
“It’s remarkable that they engage in such immature tactics, especially around an issue of women facing violence,” Kleeb said in an email.
She also noted Bold Nebraska’s attorney was alerted because AFP and KLIN “are lying and we will bring action if both do not correct these statements.”
“It’s sad this is a focus rather than the real fact women are raped at increasing rates around man camps,” she said.
Thomas said Kleeb declined his invitation to talk about the issue on his show Tuesday.
“Suggesting that construction workers might commit sexual assaults is obviously an incendiary allegation and it’s a claim Bold Nebraska has made several times,” Thomas told Nebraska Watchdog.
Talk that pipeline construction workers would commit sex assaults on women has angered union workers who would help build Keystone XL. Ron Kaminski, business manager for Laborers’ Local 1140, an affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the issue came up at a meeting Tuesday night. The pipeline would employ up to 1,000 of the union’s construction workers in Nebraska, he estimated.
“It just seems to me that Bold Nebraska is grasping at straws,” he said. “It’s very crappy that she would call Nebraska workers sexual predators because they support a pipeline.”
Union workers were “really upset” about the issue, he said, especially considering they supported Kleeb’s husband in his 2006 congressional campaign. He called it upsetting and childish and noted no such problems occurred during construction of the Keystone One pipeline that crosses the Midwest, including eastern Nebraska.
It’s a “far stretch” to compare construction of the Keystone XL with crime problems in oil patches, he said.
Faith Spotted Eagle, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D., was quoted in the Post story saying she feels obligated to try to stop the pipeline to protect tribal land and water and protect women from attacks. She is preparing communities to fight the erection of worker camps in South Dakota, near reservations.
She called Thomas and AFP’s comments a “ridiculous play on words,” citing Justice Department statistics that one out of three Native American women will be assaulted in their lifetimes.
“That is what I spoke to in the article and have suggested that individuals can learn by visiting rape centers and shelters and seeing the magnitude of the issue,” she told Nebraska Watchdog via email. “I spoke to the experience of the Bakken Range experience where assaults and violence have risen dramatically due to oil development. Jane Kleeb never called construction workers rapists, so the person who tweeted that is wrong and should apologize. Rape is a national problem, we all need to own that.”
AFP called the allegations an “insult to the working men and women of this country,” particularly the Laborer Union and others who would build the pipeline.
“It is one thing to have a disagreement about policy, but Kleeb has now resorted to extreme personal attacks,” Litt said. “Kleeb must publicly apologize to all members of the Laborers Union and all other people associated with building the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Contact Deena Winter at [email protected].