TransCanada refiles Keystone XL application in Nebraska, the next anti-pipeline battleground

Native groups say they'll mobilize against the Keystone XL like they did with the Dakota Access pipeline. But Nebraska landowners are at the forefront of legal challenges.

Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News/AP/File
Bill Turner holds his dog Alfredo outside a federal building in Dallas on Feb. 3, 2017, during a protest against several oil pipelines. His sign reads, 'Defend the sacred.'

Oil developer TransCanada has refiled its application to route the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska, the company said on Thursday, putting back on track a project rejected by then-President Barack Obama, that President Trump has promised to revive.

The application may open up a new front in efforts to block the massive pipelines that have become conspicuous symbols of fossil-fuel clout. So far, though, the first line of opposition seems likely to come through the courts, even as indigenous groups vow to mount the same sort of protests that won a temporary stoppage of the Dakota Access pipeline, a sister project.

Bold Nebraska, an opposition group, is planning a multi-pronged approach. It will launch a letter-writing campaign aimed at persuading the Nebraska Public Service Commission, an elected panel with four Republicans and one Democrat, to reject the pipeline.

Bold Nebraska says any oil spills could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source that is vital to several midwestern states, in addition to other environmental damage. But it will mount its legal challenge on eminent-domain grounds, headed by a group of some 82 landowners who refuse to let the pipeline run through their property.

“We’re going to fight this through the courts, on property rights,” said Jane Kleeb, who directs an umbrella group that includes Bold Nebraska, told Nebraska radio station KTIC in January. 

"It's a very frightening prospect that a foreign corporation can use eminent domain against landowners for their private gain," Ms. Kleeb told the AP.

TransCanada said in a statement on Thursday that it expected the review to conclude this year, calling the NPSC process “the clearest path to achieving route certainty for the project in Nebraska." The Commission typically responds to applications within seven months, or they can choose to postpone a decision for up to a year.

But Bold is confident that its legal actions will slow down the state-level approval process – despite Mr. Trump’s claims of having already “approved” the project.

“We still have very strong state rights in our country,” Kleeb said. “There is still a long eminent domain hearing process as well as a pipeline routing process. So you are looking at at least two years before they even get a permit in Nebraska.” 

If approved and constructed, the Keystone XL would run from the Canadian province of Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where it would connect with an existing pipeline to transport some 830,000 daily barrels of crude to Texas refineries. And a 2014 State Department review estimated that the project would create about 42,000 jobs nationwide and bring about $2 billion in direct and indirect earnings for workers . 

The Obama administration rejected the project in 2015, saying it would not make "a meaningful long-term contribution" to the economy, lower gas prices for consumers, or help the nation transfer toward clean energy. 

But prior to that decision, as the New Republic explained earlier that year, landowners were at the forefront of Nebraskan opposition, and managed to slow the process considerably, setting up the federal action that sidelined it: 

In 2012, the state legislature passed a law granting the governor authority to approve the route and bypassing Nebraska's Public Service Commission. A four-justice majority of the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in January that the legislation violated the state constitution, but didn’t get the supermajority (five judges) to strike down the law—thereby preserving TransCanada’s plans. But landowners are still fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain on constitutional grounds, and in February a county court issued a temporary injunction halting TransCanada from acquiring land.

In addition, Native groups voiced frustration over what they see as a lack of adequate consultation over a project that crosses their lands. And following Trump’s January executive actions that revived both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, many Dakota protestors said that they would mobilize to stop construction of the Keystone XL.

“We will be setting up camps in very strategic locations along the KXL route," Dallas Goldtoothcampaign organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network, told InsideClimate News. "We will fight Trump tooth and nail to ensure that this pipeline is not built."

This report includes information from Reuters and the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.