Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb exchanges pipeline fight for clean energy with $3 million award

By: - November 1, 2023 5:00 am

Jsne Kleeb, with Bold Nebraska, is receiving a multiyear, $3 million award for clean energy work. (Ariel Panowicz of Bold Nebraska)

LINCOLN — Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, has been teasing for weeks on social media about a “big surprise,” and several political insiders have speculated she was eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate.

Sign protesting XL Keystone pipeline on a storefront in Polk, Nebraska
Signs protest the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, which was abandoned by TC Energy in 2021. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Instead, she confirmed this week that she is taking on a new project in her work with Bold Nebraska, thanks to a big infusion of cash.

Bold Nebraska is the group Kleeb founded in 2010 to organize farmers, ranchers and Native Americans to push back against the Keystone XL Pipeline. This week, that work led to a $3 million international award.

Kleeb was announced Wednesday as the third American to receive the Climate Breakthrough Award. She was joined this year by Indonesia’s Gita Syahrani in receiving the award.

She will receive funding for multiple years to invest in organizing similar rural alliances to embrace alternative or green energy sources such as solar and wind power.

New work for Bold

She will hand off Bold Nebraska’s pipeline work to an employee and focus on building rural trust after “years of misinformation and disinformation by the fossil fuel companies.”

“We’ve been part of those discussions a lot of rural communities are having around clean energy, but we’ve never had the resources to organize like we organize on pipelines,” Kleeb said.

The award will nearly triple Bold Nebraska’s budget, Kleeb said. The recognition will help the group raise more money from larger foundations focused on climate change.

She said the group’s clean energy efforts would go national after proving its concept in Nebraska, an ag state; North Dakota, an oil state; and Michigan, a Democratic-leaning state.

Rural focus

Kleeb wants to ensure that rural Americans understand they and their land are on the front lines of American energy for the next century. They need a seat at the table, she said.

A warning sign alerting people to an existing gas pipeline in Polk, Nebraska. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

One of her key goals will be working with landowners and rural residents to design ways to profit from clean energy projects, much like Alaskans do from oil drilling.

Alaskans receive annual dividends or payments from oil pipelines and drilling in the state. Kleeb said there’s no reason wind and solar projects that change the landscape couldn’t also make such payments.

She talked about wind farms that have hundreds of red lights flashing in the sky at night.

“That changes the way that you can look at the stars,” she said. “So people should be financially benefited in the entire community.”

Energy and political balance

She said she understands the heavy lift ahead in Nebraska, a Republican-leaning rural state where coal remains a key driver of electricity production, particularly in rural areas.

But, she said, there are Republicans and Democrats and political independents who agree on the need to have a more balanced energy production portfolio. 

Kleeb said her new responsibilities with Bold Nebraska should not keep her from her volunteer position with the Nebraska Democratic Party. 

The Climate Breakthrough Project, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, spends much of its money investing in what it describes as “big bet, transformational efforts” rather than incremental progress.

It is a joint effort of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Oak Foundation and the Good Energies Foundation, started in 2016, that funds one to three people each year. Candidates are chosen and interviewed. They do not apply. 

Savanna Ferguson, executive director of Climate Breakthrough, called Kleeb “an inspiring leader.” 

“Now,” Ferguson said of Kleeb, “she’s setting her sights on even more ambitious goals.”

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.