Fate of Keystone XL remains uncertain, after Nebraska approval

A large crowd of pipeline fighters gathered after the Public Service Commission meeting (NTV News)

Both sides declare victory, as Nebraska regulators approve a route for the Keystone XL pipeline, but they choose an alternate path, which raises new questions.

Pipeline fighters filled the atrium leading to the Public Service Commission (PSC) with applause.

“We were victorious today. We beat TransCanada,” Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska said.

After eight years, the PSC settled the matter in a meeting lasting seven minutes.

TransCanada wins approval to build in Nebraska, but not the path the company wanted for $8 billon pipeline.

The choice of an alternate path prompted two of the five commissioners to vote no. Commissioners Mary Ridder and Crystal Rhoades said they could not support that.

Rhoades was the only one to speak about the decision. She outlined seven reasons she voted no, including her assertion the alternate route has not been studied.

She said, “The route that's being approved here today is a different route, quite simply the mainline alternative route was not the focus of that intense study.”

A coalition of Native American tribes, landowners, and activists calls it a win to see the primary route rejected.

“This commission denied TransCanada's proposed preferred route,” said their attorney Brian Jorde.

But opponents say the new path has not been scrutinized.

Commissioner Rhoades said, “There are at least 40 landowners along the approved route who made not even know their land is in this pipeline's path.”

Tom Genung of Hastings and his wife have land in Holt County near the route. That area would not be affected, but it would be diverted away from a path near Albion and Fullerton, farther to the east.

Genung said, “Those landowners have not been apprised of the possibility of a pipeline going through their land.”

In a 75-page order, the majority of commissioners agree the alternate is in the public interest because more of it would be built alongside the existing Keystone I pipeline, avoiding more of the Sandhills and affecting less wildlife habitat, and fewer acres of crop land.

Commissioner Rod Johnson of Sutton agreed with the majority, but said he would hold TransCanada to its pledge to do whatever it takes to restore any land affected by construction.

“The company must keep that promise,” he wrote in the final order.

Landowners who have fought it say it's not enough.

Art Tandrup of Neligh said, “We as a state have to do everything we can to protect that resource and what just happened is not protecting that resource.”

Oil industry groups say it's a win-win.

TransCanada’s CEO expressed uncertainty, saying the company will look at the cost before deciding its next move, saying they're spending $24 billion on other projects.

So even with approval, it's unknown what happens next.

Jane Kleeb said, “There is not a single person in this fight that will go home and say the fight is over.”

The decision comes days after a spill in South Dakota on Keystone I. By law, the PSC is not allowed to consider safety and risk of spills.

As far as the Public Service Commission goes, TransCanada has the go-ahead to build.

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