On Oct. 13, Tom Weis drew a line in the sand.
"They're not bringing their pipeline into our country," he told those who had gathered at Montana's northern border to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Weis then hopped in his "rocket trike," an enclosed tricycle with a backup electrical motor that looks like a small yellow spaceship, and started peddling. Over the course of 10 weeks, Weis worked to raise awareness of the environmental dangers Keystone presents while cycling the length of the proposed pipeline, 1,700 miles across six states. "It just shows that there are different ways of doing things," he says.
TransCanada's request of the federal government to approve the pipeline, which would transport oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, has become a political hot potato. Environmental watchdogs like Weis say Keystone construction would leave America's heartland vulnerable to pipeline leaks. Equally troubling for Weis is the fact that oil sands crude requires a significant amount of energy and water to turn it into fuel. Ultimately, he sees pipeline construction as a bad way to perpetuate a petroleum-dependant status quo.
Weis isn't alone in his opposition. The Dalai Lama opposes the pipeline, as do more than 100 mayors in dozens of states. Late last summer, more than 1,200 pipeline protestors were arrested in Washington, D.C.
The proposal also has significant support. Montana's congressional delegation, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the Montana Chamber of Commerce all say Keystone XL can be done responsibly and will provide much needed fuel, jobs and tax revenue. "It will be one of the largest, if not the largest, property-tax payers in the state of Montana," says Montana Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Director Jon Bennion.
Bennion also says that a new pipeline would enable Montana oil producers to ship inexpensively their product and further fuel job growth. "This is going to directly encourage production of Montana and North Dakota oil," he contends.
Weis doesn't buy it. He says investing in wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal systems is the way to go, financially and environmentally. "The problem with embracing something like this toxic tar sands pipeline," he says, "is it takes our country in the exact opposite direction of where the jobs are."