WASHINGTON - One of Hollywood's most iconic screen cowboys is calling TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline a threat to the splendour of America's heartland.
In a slick video posted Tuesday on the New York Times website, Robert Redford is the latest and biggest U.S. celebrity to oppose the controversial pipeline, adding his voice to the growing din of American opposition to the $7-billion project.
The longtime environmentalist, best known for his role as Wild West outlaw the Sundance Kid, has already spoken out against Keystone XL in articles last month on the Huffington Post. But he's redoubled his efforts by producing and appearing in the new video.
With the forlorn strumming of a guitarist in the background, a weathered-looking Redford — who lives in the Rocky Mountains of Utah — urges the Obama administration to block the pipeline.
"What evokes the majesty of our country and the spirit of our people more than the Great Plains?" Redford asks in the video op-ed, entitled "Stop The Keystone XL."
"But today these lands are threatened by Big Oil and its plan to run a pipeline straight through this American heartland. The Keystone XL pipeline will carry the dirtiest oil on the planet from Canada to America's Gulf Coast refineries and ports."
Redford couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday; TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said the actor is "entitled to his opinion."
But, he added, the company would welcome an honest discussion about Keystone XL.
"The fundamental issue here is that the U.S. consumes 15 million barrels of crude oil per day and imports 11 million barrels per day," Cunha said.
"Under any scenario, the need for crude oil as the primary transportation fuel will remain for decades. The U.S. has an important choice of receiving more oil from its most secure, stable and reliable trade partner, Canada, or to continue to import from less stable locations that do not share the interest and values of Americans. "
Redford's video represents just the latest public relations headache for Calgary-based TransCanada.
The Washington Post featured a front page story earlier this week on the pipeline, detailing how Keystone XL is becoming a dangerously divisive issue for the Obama administration heading into a presidential election year. The piece also delved into the increasingly nervous efforts by Canadian Embassy officials in Washington to rally supportive American lawmakers to the cause.
Several big-market American newspapers, from the New York Times to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Baltimore Sun, have published anti-pipeline editorials.
"Blocking Keystone XL might not prevent the Canadians from tapping the tar sands, but a strong U.S. stand might persuade the country to reconsider its actions," read the Sun's editorial on Monday. "Build Keystone XL, and there might be a short-term benefit — but at what long-term cost? It would surely accelerate the worst effects of climate change."
Other actors, from Kyra Sedgwick to Daryl Hannah and Canadian-born Margot Kidder, have come out in opposition to the pipeline. Hannah and Kidder, in fact, were arrested in August while protesting outside the White House.
But the words of Redford, active in conservation issues since the early 1970s, carry the type of environmental gravitas few in the Hollywood community can match
"Back before Angelina and orphans, before Bono and Africa, before Diana and landmines, even before Geldof and world poverty, there was Robert Redford and the environment," Time magazine wrote in 2007 as it named the actor one of its Heroes of the Environment.
Redford was a key player behind the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, a 7,500 square kilometre chunk of land in the state's southern reaches. From 1975 to 1996, when former president Bill Clinton finally acted to protect the land, Redford worked to keep it out of the hands of developers.
In his video op-ed, Redford pays particular attention to the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, a crucial Midwest water source that would be traversed by the pipeline.
"A pipeline failure there would contaminate nearly five billion gallons of fresh groundwater," Redford said as he beseeched President Barack Obama to "stand up for the future you know we deserve."
Redford, indeed, has been a vocal critic of Obama's for months, accusing him of failing to keep his 2008 campaign promises on the environment.
"One reason I supported President Obama is because he said we must protect clean air, water and lands," he wrote in one Huffington Post piece.
"But what good is it to say the right thing unless you act on it?"