Lawmakers feel heat of Keystone XL opponents

Any expectations of a heated exchange between an anti-pipeline activist and a Lincoln state senator evaporated about as quickly as Colleen O’Doherty poked her nose into Tony Fulton’s office over the noon hour on Wednesday. “I know what you guys are doing,” Fulton told O’Doherty, 24, of Omaha on the Legislature’s opening day. “I appreciate what you’re doing.” What eight organizations and as many as 125 opponents of the Keystone XL petroleum pipeline, including O’Doherty and Guardians of the Good Life, were doing moments earlier was rallying outside the Capitol’s west entrance. They were hoping to prod some two dozen targeted lawmakers into limiting eminent domain and creating other control measures. Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska was the first rallier to urge passage of new laws that could protect the state’s land and water. “We’re here to tell them they do have a role,” Kleeb said of legislators. “We do know what their role is.” Keystone XL is TransCanada’s second proposal for moving oil through Nebraska from the tar sands of Alberta to U.S. refineries. Comparatively speaking, the first one, known as Keystone, sailed through the oversight process and began pumping through a 30-inch-diameter conduit and through the eastern part of the state earlier this year. The going has been much slower for the 36-inch Keystone XL. Opposition along the proposed route farther west through the Nebraska Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer has been more vocal and more organized. And approval by the U.S. State Department, in charge because the pipe crosses an international border, is still pending more than two years after the company offered an overview of its intentions. Among others stepping forward from the ranks of critics at the latest opposition event was Mary Pipher, best known as the Lincoln author of “Reviving Ophelia,” the non-fiction bestseller about adolescent girls struggling toward adulthood. “Over the years, we’ve seen the quality of life diminish for all of us,” she said, “but especially for our children.” Nebraska citizens are “the grownups of this household,” Pipher said of the controversial path toward pipeline development. “Who will take care of Nebraska if we don’t?” Another outpouring of indignation about Keystone XL fits in the same timeframe with allegations about a new round of pressuring tactics from TransCanada to get Nebraska landowners along the route to sign easements and amid reports about leak incidents in the early operating phase of TransCanada’s first pipeline. “We’re not threatening or using any heavy-handedness,” spokesman Terry Cunha said from TransCanada’s Calgary office. “We’re trying to work with them to come to agreement.” He said there have been some minor problems with leaks in South Dakota, but all were matters of a few gallons and all occurred at pumping stations rather than in between. “They were all contained and repaired and adequately addressed,” he said. And they shouldn’t be regarded as trouble signs. He compared the situation to the early days of ownership of a new car. “After you drive it, a screw may come loose and you have to fix it. And that’swhat’s happening here.” Ron Kaminski was not at the Wednesday rally and not supportive of it. “Our folks in the construction field have been beat up for the last three years or so,” said Kaminski, business manager for some 700 Nebraska and Iowa members of Local 1140 of the Laborers International Union of North America. “They’re losing their houses, they’re losing their vehicles, and they’ve not been able to feed their families.” He estimated that 600 of his members worked on Keystone and that Keystone XL “would be the major project of the year” in 2011. Kaminski predicted approval by the State Department. Without it, “we would continue to see high numbers of unemployment in the construction field.” Earlier Wednesday, Dan Kramer, Atkinson banker and one of the founders of Landowners for Fairness, said its Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana negotiators had reached a non-binding agreement with TransCanada on easements. Kramer, also an owner of land the proposed pipeline would cross, said he is among those from an overall membership of about 100 who have signed an easement. He declined to reveal details ahead of their filing with land documents at county courthouses. Despite his signature, Kramer sees work for Nebraska to do in regulating future petroleum pipeline projects. “We’re just babes in this process,” he said. Lincoln resident Shirley Condon, whose family owns land near Central City, said before the rally Wednesday that not much has happened since TransCanada threatened land condemnation action last year. She and her husband met with a contractor representative, she said, but that yielded no signs of compromise or willingness to adjust the route. “I’m still hoping it just doesn’t happen,” Condon said. ((05 JAN 2011))
















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