By Chris White
Activists believe the highly contentious Keystone XL Pipeline should be re-routed in Nebraska to avoid the state’s native whooping crane population.
Academics testifying on behalf of Bold Nebraska and Sierra Club argued Tuesday in front of regulators that the project’s electrical transmission lines would devastate the area’s bird population. The activists said that Keystone posed “an unacceptable risk” if even one whooping crane is killed.
“We need to reduce the threats to this magnificent bird, not increase them,” Paul Johnsgard, a retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and whooping crane expert, said in a submitted written testimony to the Nebraska Public Service Commission (NPSC), a little known regulatory panel pegged with determining the Nebraska’s route’s fate.
Johnsgard and the activist groups believe the agency should reject the project’s route across the state, or shift the route to an area of the state with fewer stream crossings and fewer miles of sandy/porous soils. Other environmentalists joined the trio Tuesday.
“The KXL application downplays the measurable benefits” of shifting the route near a section of the pipeline that crosses eastern Nebraska, Thomas David Hayes, a Texas-based environmental scientist. said in his testimony.
Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, said the developer would consider the comments, but noted that Keystone does not cross any critical habitat for the whooping crane.
Recent reports suggest Keystone could be a boon for taxpayers.
The 1,700-mile pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, which could net the company and the pipeline’s outer lying area $1.6 billion a year, Kimberly VanWyhe, energy policy director at the American Action Forum, wrote in the report.
Regulators are expected to render a verdict in August on the proposed 275-mile route across Nebraska.
TransCanada initially applied for a cross-border permit in 2008. The State Department found at the time that the project would have no significant impact on the environment, but former President Barack Obama eventually nixed Keystone, arguing the line could hurt the country’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Keystone encountered fierce opposition from landowners and activists during the initial route and successive legal challenges over the legality of maneuvering around plots of land eventually brought the project to a standstill.
President Donald Trump rescinded his predecessor’s order earlier this year. He rekindled the $8 billion project, telling reporters in January that the nation needed the construction jobs.
Environmentalists have promised to “raise hell” and recruit millions of people to fight the multi-billion-dollar project. Activists also intend to bring the fight directly to lawmakers at town hall meetings along the project.
TransCanada told NPSC that the project’s route was crafted with “safety and a respect for the environment” in mind. But testimony submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska said the developer used “false and biased reasoning” to support the current route, which crosses 281 streams along the western part of the state.
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