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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 17, 2017

Nebraska to decide fate of controversial Keystone XL pipeline

By Kevin O’Hanlon and Valerie Volcovici, Reuters | Nov 20, 2017

LINCOLN, Nebraska/WASHINGTON — Nebraska regulators will announce their decision on Monday on whether to approve TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline route through the state, the last big hurdle for the long-delayed project.

Just days ago, TransCanada’s existing Keystone system spilled 5,000 barrels in South Dakota and pipeline opponents said the spill highlighted the risks posed by the proposed XL expansion.

The stakes are big. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has made Keystone XL’s success a plank in his effort to boost the U.S. energy industry. Environmentalists have made the project a symbol of their broader fight against fossil fuels and global warming.

The proposed 1,179-mile (1,897-km) pipeline linking Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries has been a lightning rod of controversy since it was proposed nearly a decade ago. The administration of former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, considered the line for years before rejecting it in 2015 on environmental grounds.

Trump swiftly reversed that decision, handing TransCanada a federal permit for the pipeline in March and arguing the project will lower fuel prices, boost national security, and bring jobs.

The decision placed the pipeline’s fate into the hands of an obscure regulatory body in Nebraska, the only state that had yet to approve the pipeline’s route.

Nebraska’s five-member Public Service Commission is charged with assessing whether the route is in the state’s best interests, but cannot consider the risk of spills since the project already has an environmental permit.

The commission members have ties to a wide range of conflicting interests in the debate, making it difficult to predict their decision. According to state filings, the Democrat is a member of the Sierra Club, an environmental group opposing the pipeline. The others are Republicans with ties to the farming and ranching sectors, including one member who raises cattle in an area near where the pipeline would cross.

Opposition to the line in Nebraska has been driven mainly by a group of around 90 landowners whose farms lie along the proposed route. They have said they are worried spills could pollute water critical for grazing cattle, and that tax revenue will be short-lived and jobs will be temporary.

TransCanada has said it has received adequate support to make the pipeline viable. But it has yet to announce results of its open season to gauge interest among shippers, which closed at the end of October.

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