Jobs! Texans Urge State Dept. to Approve Oil Pipeline, but Opposition Expected in Nebraska

September 27, 2011 - 4:35 AM
State Dept. heads to Neb. for oil pipeline hearing
Oil Pipeline

In hopes of reducing waterborne oil spills, Mark Maher address the U.S. State Department in a public hearing regarding the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011. The 1,700-mile pipeline would connect Canadian tar sands to Port Arthur refineries. The pipeline has been controversial with a number of environmentalists because it would cross six U.S. states. (AP Photo/The Enterprise, Guiseppe Barranco)

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (AP) - After a largely amicable first round of public hearings into a proposed Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, officials from the U.S. State Department could encounter much fiercer resistance Tuesday during a listening session in Nebraska.

Environmentalists and some landowners planned to rally outside the Pershing Center near the state Capitol in Lincoln. There is growing concern in the deeply conservative state about the pipeline's effect on the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast subterranean reservoir that spans a large swath of the Great Plains and provides water to eight states.

Labor unions and business groups in Nebraska were lining up advocates to speak in favor of the project.

More than 500 people packed a meeting Monday evening in the Southeast Texas refinery town of Port Arthur to discuss the project. Most of the more than 100 speakers spoke in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, arguing it would create thousands of much needed jobs, increase national security by lessening the country's demand on oil from countries that may not be friendly to the U.S.

Many at the meeting wore T-shirts with slogans in favor of the pipeline. Slogans included, "Keystone XL Pipeline Means Jobs" and "Build Keystone XL Now." Supporters of the pipeline often cheered after one of them spoke and sometimes booed those who spoke against it.

Robert Turner, owner of a Chevy dealership in the nearby town of Nederland, said the thousands of jobs the project is expected to create would be a much needed boost to not just the local and national economy.

"I think this country needs something to get behind. We need hope in this country," he said. "You will send a signal to the people who don't have a job that they may get a job."

Earlier Monday, 200 people attended a meeting in Topeka, Kan., with many environmentalists speaking against the pipeline, claiming it would move a "dirtier" and "environmentally" devastating form of energy" from Canada through six U.S. states before ending up in Port Arthur on the Texas coast.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, coordinator of the Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, said he and others in his coalition disagreed with the State Department's report, which said there are unlikely to be any serious environmental problems with the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline.

"An energy policy that moves the nation toward an even dirtier form of oil and involves such devastation of God's creation represents a profound moral failure," Rieber said.

About 40 protesters organized by the National Wildlife Federation marched outside the hall during a break in the Topeka meeting. They chanted and carried signs saying, "Stop Keystone XL." About a dozen supporters also gathered with signs that read: "We support Keystone XL."

David Barnett, financial secretary for the Pipeliners Union 798, of Tulsa, Okla., said losing the pipeline would cost his members "up in the millions of dollars" in paychecks.

The pipeline, by Calgary-based TransCanada, would move tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, and hook up the company' existing pipelines and move oil to Oklahoma and the Gulf of Mexico.

TransCanada has said the pipeline would mean tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and more energy security for the country and that claims of environmental dangers from the project are "overheated rhetoric."

Other meetings have been scheduled this week in Montana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Officials from the State Department said it would use the input collected during the week to inform its decision.

The State Department, which has to approve the pipeline because it would cross the U.S.-Canada border, is expected to decide by the end of the year.

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Fisher reported from Topeka, Kan.