The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline said Thursday that it is once again seeking state approval for a route through Nebraska. TransCanada said it has filed an application with the state commission that regulates oil pipelines. The Canadian company’s previous attempts to start construction in Nebraska have been thwarted by activists and some landowners who worry that it could damage property and contaminate groundwater supplies. Opponents have already met to discuss how they might be able to halt the project.
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In a statement, the company said its project will emphasize safety and respect for the environment. TransCanada said its preferred route would avoid an area the state defines as the Nebraska Sandhills, an ecologically sensitive region of grass-covered sand dunes with high water tables. “This application has been shaped by direct, on-the-ground input from Nebraskans,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a statement. “The thousands of Nebraskans we have met over the last eight years understand the value of this project and what it means to the state.”
The Keystone XL would travel from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing Keystone pipeline network to carry crude oil to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports the pipeline, and last month he signed executive memos to make it easier for the project to move forward.
Pipeline opponents may have a tougher time blocking it than before, since Trump is now president. Former President Barack Obama rejected a federal permit for the project largely because of environmental concerns raised by the project’s critics. In Nebraska, opponents plan to focus initially on elected state officials who have the power to reject the project within Nebraska.
The pipeline opposition group Bold Nebraska will launch a letter-writing campaign this month aimed at the Nebraska Public Service Commission, an elected, five-member board that will review the project. The current commission is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat.
The commission regulates “common carriers,” such as a taxis and pipelines, that are used to transport goods, energy or people. Commissioners 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. “We will follow all aspects of the law as we fulfill the duties assigned to us by the Legislature,” said Jeff Pursley, the commission’s executive director.
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.
Opponents thwarted the project in Nebraska with a series of lawsuits and activism that at one point led then-Gov. Dave Heineman to call a special legislative session. This time, they may try to draw from a national wave of anti-Trump activism.
“We have to be as proactive as possible,” said Linda Anderson, Bold Nebraska’s state director. “But I think we can do it again.” If pipeline opponents can’t stop the construction of the pipeline, they at least want it to run along the same route as an earlier Keystone pipeline that already runs through eastern Nebraska, said Jane Kleeb, a longtime opponent of the project.
“It’s a very frightening prospect that a foreign corporation can use eminent domain against landowners for their private gain,” said Kleeb, the director of an umbrella group that includes Bold Nebraska. Kleeb said 82 landowners in Nebraska still haven’t agreed to let the pipeline run through their property. TransCanada has said it has secured agreements with roughly 90 percent of the state’s property owners.