Nebraska speakers pack meeting on oil pipeline plan
ALBION, Neb. (AP) -- At the lone Nebraska public hearing on the revised plan for an oil pipeline through the state, the multitude of speakers sounded familiar refrains for and against the project.
More than 160 people signed up to address the packed hearing Tuesday in Albion, the media reported.
At issue was the Keystone XL pipeline route TransCanada wants to use in carrying crude oil from Canada through the Dakotas, Nebraska and other states on its way to Gulf Coast refineries.
Environmentalists and other opponents have said the $7 billion project could contaminate groundwater reserves and threaten ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and other states along its 1,700-mile path.
For example, Oglala Lakota Nation Vice President Tom Poor Bear said Tuesday night that "oil is oil" to him. "And if it gets in the water, our water is no good," Poor Bear said.
Another opponent, Kerry Kopecky, of O'Neill, said: "This pipeline is not right, and it's never been right. Food and water are essential for life, not oil."
TransCanada has altered the pipeline's path through Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region and a couple towns' water wells.
Those favoring the project, including such organizations as Americans for Prosperity, the Consumer Energy Alliance and Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, have cited the nation's need for more oil and praised its potential economic impact.
"The Keystone XL is in our country's best interest," said Ron Selacek on behalf of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He said the pipeline poses "minimal and manageable environmental risks."
John Blasingame, of Omaha, was one of the labor union representatives who attended, and he made his opinion clear on his T-shirt, which read: "Approve the Keystone XL pipeline so America works."
Pipeline opponents and backers have been making similar arguments since TransCanada proposed the project in 2008. President Barack Obama in January rejected TransCanada's original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline.
Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces. The company began construction in August on the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. The southern section of the pipeline didn't need presidential approval because it won't cross an international border.
State regulators issued a 600-page report on the oil pipeline in October and scheduled the public hearing. Officials have said they'll add Tuesday's testimony to their considerations in making a recommendation to Gov. Dave Heineman, who will decide whether to approve the new route.
Heineman has supported the pipeline project in the past, but he opposed TransCanada's original proposed route that crossed the Sandhills.
After Nebraska officials finish their process, the U.S. State Department will review the project again before Obama has the final say.