Keystone XL facing multiple challenges in Nebraska
Just after taking office in January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline which had been vetoed by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
Now, about 90 Nebraska landowners fighting the pipeline are readying to battle development of the crude pipeline that would carry Alberta oilsands crude to refineries in Illinois and Texas.
The landowners, mostly farmers and ranchers, are backed by conservation groups. They argue the pipeline threatens prime farming and grazing lands and question a foreign company’s ability to seize American property.
Reuters spoke to Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup who stands opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline. If built, the pipeline would cut through his family farm, near the two-storey farmhouse that was built by his wife’s grandfather.
“It’s depressing to start again after Obama rejected the pipeline two years ago, but we need keep our coalition energized and strong,” Tanderup told Reuters. He and his wife Helen farm near Neligh, Nebraska on land that has been in Helen’s family for over 100 years.
Tanderup and his group of pipeline opponents face multiple challengers. Supporters of the pipeline include Republican Governor Pete Rickets, most of the state’s senators, labor unions and chambers of commerce.
The Keystone opponents are framing an economic argument against the pipeline, hoping it will be better received than one that highlights environmental concerns which was key to blocking the project under President Obama.
Opponents say the pipeline will only create temporary jobs during construction and limited tax revenues will decline over time. A study by the US State Department estimated the pipeline would create 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs.
This is a much different message than President Trump’s, who has said Keystone XL will generate 28,000 US jobs. TransCanada, the company building the Keystone XL pipeline, said on their website the project would create “tens of thousands” of jobs and tens of millions in tax dollars for the three states it crosses.
The company decline Reuters’ request for comment on the number and description of jobs.
The pipeline is the key Canadian producers struggling to deliver landlocked Alberta oilsands heavy crude to markets equipped to handle it. Unlike Nebraska, TransCanada has route approval in all of the other US states.
Only nine per cent of the 300-mile long Nebraska crossing remains disputed. Now, the controversy goes to the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which is five-member utility commission that has authority over the pipeline’s route.
One of the members of the commission is Democrat Crystal Rhoades, a member of the Sierra Club which opposes the pipeline. According to Reuters, another is Republican Rod Johnson who has a long history of campaign donations from oil and gas firms.
The remaining members are Republicans who have ties to the farming and ranching sectors, including one member who raises cattle in an area that would be impacted by the pipeline.
The commission has scheduled a public hearing in May and will hear testimony from pipeline supporters and opponents for one week in August.
Reuters said all five members of the commission declined requests for comment.
The Omaha-based Domina Law Group is helping landowners including Art Tanderup prepare for the August hearings. If Keystone is approved, the firm has pledged to file legal challenges, potentially challenging TransCanada’s right to use eminent domain law to seize property.
Brian Jorde of Domina Law Group says eminent domain allows for the government to expropriate private land in public interest. He doubts TransCanada could meet that threshold in Nebraska.
“Some temporary jobs and some taxes is not enough to win the public interest argument,” he told Reuters.