The Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed 1,179-mile crude oil pipeline between Canada and Nebraska, has been a focal point for environmental efforts since the proposal was introduced in 2008. The pipeline would pump up to an extra 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil, an expensive extracting source of oil that produces toxic waste and involves strip mining large tracts of land. After protests and organizing to rally support in opposition to the pipeline, Barack Obama vetoed the pipeline’s construction in November 2015, inciting a lawsuit filed by the pipeline’s developer, TransCanada, seeking financial retribution of $15 billion in line with NAFTA Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions. Shortly into Donald Trump’s presidency, he revived the shut-down project in March 2017 and TransCanada dropped the lawsuit in response, with Nebraska as the final battleground for whether the pipeline will ultimately be built or not.
“If they do not get a permit in Nebraska, they will not be able to build the pipeline. Market forces are also at play since they do not have confirmed shippers or even a labor agreement at this point with the union,” said Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair, and founder of Bold Nebraska, an environmental organization leading the fight against the pipeline in Nebraska, in an interview with the author. “We have ongoing lawsuits at the county level on eminent domain which have been going on since the pipeline was rejected by President Obama. There is a federal lawsuit about to be heard in Montana courts and the ongoing battle at the Nebraska Public Service Commission.”
Earlier this month, Nebraska regulators held final hearings to determine whether to grant a permit to TransCanada to complete the pipeline’s construction, the decision from which is expected sometime by November. The Nebraska Public Commission barred testimony arguing that there is no need for more oil in the current markets after TransCanada lawyers objected to these arguments, refuting that they are beyond the scope of the commission’s ability. The commission is determining whether the pipeline is in the best interest of the state. Opponents to the pipeline argued the jobs the project provides are only temporary, pose risks to local ranching and farming industries, could include property seizure by TransCanada under eminent domain, in addition to the environmental risks. Also cited was that after the 50-year anticipated life span of the pipeline, if and how would TransCanada dispose of it.
Over the past several years, environmental activists have managed to sway public opinion in opposition to the pipeline, pushing Democratic Party members to ultimately oppose the pipeline. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign pushed to include language in the Democratic Party Platform for the party to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and evaluate any future projects in a similar manner that led to Obama vetoing the Keystone XL.
Kleeb added, “More Democrats are firmly against the pipeline now. When we first started roughly 50% of Dems supported it, that is down to 30% now.” This growing support is key as the fate of the Keystone XL project lies in a series of looming court battles that will require the same surge in support and activism to ensure the pipeline’s construction is never completed and fully operated.