Activists seek to intervene in Nebraska Keystone XL review

By Grant Schulte, Associated Press

Activists who want to derail the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska are again mobilizing to try to make their case to a small state commission that will decide the project's fate.

 

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Activists who want to derail the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska are again mobilizing to try to make their case to a small state commission that will decide the project's fate.

Opponents asked the Nebraska Public Service Commission Wednesday to let them intervene in the case, allowing them to file legal briefs, cross-examine witnesses and present formal arguments alongside pipeline developer TransCanada's attorneys.

Nebraska requires residents to show a "substantial legal interest" in a project before they can intervene. Commission Chairman Tim Schram will decide who qualifies at a later date.

TransCanada announced last month that it had filed an application with the commission, which regulates oil pipelines in Nebraska. The Canadian company's previous attempts to start construction in Nebraska have been thwarted by activists and some landowners who argue the pipeline could damage property and contaminate groundwater.

The fight in Nebraska had been rendered moot when President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL in 2015, but President Donald Trump in January signed executive memos to make it easier for the project to move forward. The Keystone XL would carry about 830,000 barrels a day from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing Keystone pipeline network to carry crude to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

Keystone opposition group Bold Nebraska contends that opponents have an interest as taxpayers and consumers of the state's water, among other roles, said executive director Linda Anderson. Native American members of Anderson's group will argue that members of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska have an interest because the pipeline could cross an historic route known as the Ponca Trail of Tears, Anderson said.

"We've been going all around Nebraska, talking to people and trying to get them involved," she said. "My hope is that there are quite a few applications."

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cuhna said he did not know of anyone seeking to intervene in support of the company.

"We continue to have positive dialogue with our Nebraska stakeholders ... and will continue to do so as the project moves through the PSC process," Cunha said.

The commission had received less than 50 applications just before the 5 p.m. deadline, including some from pipeline supporters, said agency spokeswoman Deb Collins. Pipeline opponents organized by Bold Nebraska dropped off 10 more applications at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Bold is proud to stand with the many brave Nebraskans who have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline for years," said Ken Winston, an attorney for the umbrella group that includes Bold Nebraska.

Members of the Public Service Commission generally take about seven months to approve or deny an application, but they can postpone a decision for up to a year. Their decision hinges on whether they believe the project serves a public interest, based on evidence presented at a public hearing. Four of the commission's five members are Republicans.

According to a 2014 report by the U.S. State Department, Keystone XL would support about 42,100 jobs, including about 3,900 workers directly involved in construction. Workers, including those indirectly supported by the pipeline, would earn about $2 billion.

Once construction ends and oil starts flowing, the pipeline would support just 35 permanent jobs, according to the report.

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