An obscure regulatory commission in Nebraska is meeting Wednesday to discuss the fate of the recently approved Keystone XL Pipeline.
Elected officials on the Nebraska Public Service Commission engaged in a grueling 10-hour meeting before more than 120 activists and ranchers over the controversial pipeline. The group, consisting of four Republicans and one Democrat, will determine whether the Canadian project moves ahead.
An additional public hearing is scheduled in August before the commission makes a final call on Keystone’s fate.
Democratic activists like Jane Kleeb, who became the pipeline’s chief opponents in 2014, hope to use economic arguments against Keystone to help sway the Republican-controlled commission.
“This will be a test of where we see any shift in local politics,” Kleeb, now chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, told reporters Wednesday. Her activist group was instrumental in pushing former President Barack Obama into torpedoing the multi-billion oil project two years ago under the guise of protecting the environment.
Activists ratcheted up their pressure on the commission after President Donald Trump approved the previously rejected project. Kleeb, among others, promised to bury the president and his administration under a wave of litigation targeting the pipeline, which is expected to shuttle more than 830,000 barrels of oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.
Six environmental groups sued the Trump administration, arguing the project needed to go through another environmental review before it could be approved.
TransCanada, the company behind the project, applied for a cross-border permit in 2008 to complete the pipeline. The Department of State eventually found the project would have little impact on the environment or on greenhouse gas emissions.
Kleeb is also the president of activist group Bold Alliance, which pushed Iowa’s attorney general last year into investigating ExxonMobil following reports the company allegedly covered up its knowledge concerning global warming.
Opponents of the projects are hoping to pressure Republican chairman Frank Landis Jr., who is up for re-election in 2018, and Republican Commissioner Mary Ridder, a rancher whose district would be closely skirted by the pipeline’s proposed route, not to back it.
Some of the American Indian activists who fought against the equally contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) are shifting their anti-pipeline furor to Keystone, among a growing number of pipelines speckling the countryside.
Financial institutions investing in the DAPL such as Wells Fargo have become a target among those protesting the project – the DAPL, like Keystone, is opposed by environmentalists and Indian tribes that worry the project could poison Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply.
Wells Fargo is not the only bank getting pounded. Citi Group, TD Bank of Canada, and others, are also being pressured by anti-fracking activists to halt any and all monetary backing of the company responsible for constructing the DAPL.
Kleeb has promised a DAPL-like opposition to Keystone.
“The commissioners know it is game time, and everybody is looking,” Kleeb said earlier this year. Her groups are also coordinating resistance from landowners and ranchers in the area afraid the project could violate their private property and hurt their farm yields.
Trump, for his part, said he was willing to weigh in on the pipeline debate in Nebraska if needs be.
“Nebraska? I’ll call Nebraska,” he said after TransCanada CEO Russell Girling said Keystone faced pressure in the state.
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