More than 250 people including lobbyists, business leaders, politicians,
farmers, environmentalists, union workers and landowners traveled to make
their case for or against the Keystone XL Pipeline in front of the Nebraska
Public Service Commission on Wednesday, May 3.
The five-member Commission limited each person to five minutes of speaking
time to give as many people as possible a chance to make their case. Over
the 10 hour session, 135 people were given the chance to speak.
The testimony was given in an orderly fashion, though emotions bubbled
to the surface on multiple occasions as landowners fought back tears while
describing the generations of family who tended to the land now at risk
of being seized in order to build the $8 billion pipeline that is intended
to connect Canadian oil to oil refineries in the Gulf Coast.
Farmers are far from the only people who will be affected if the pipeline
is approved – a number of Native American cultural and heritage
sites, like the Ponca Trail of Tears, will be destroyed according to Ponca
Tribe Council member Larry Wright Jr. and the chairman of the Winnebago
Tribe Frank White.
While pipeline safety was among the topics speakers touched on, the Commission
cannot consider it in their decision due to state statute limits that
only allow them to consider specific issues like the effect on plants
and wildlife, the distance to groundwater, soil permeability, environmental
impact and social effect. Since Nebraska is the only state that needs
to approve the route, tensions flared up from time to time. However, attorney
Brian Jorde, who is representing a number of landowners who stand opposed
to the pipeline’s construction, said that:
“there isn’t one argument thus far of why it would be in the
public interest of Nebraska… We’ve got people coming in from
out of state to support jobs, and all of us can get behind jobs, but when
you weigh that against the risks and the rewards, there’s no reason
this pipeline should be built.”
While the day saw conflicting arguments from both sides of the issue, Jorde
downplayed the contention between those for the construction and those against.
"The main question is not farmers versus union members. We also support
union members and jobs. The threshold question is: Is this project in
the public interest of Nebraska? And it’s not.”