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Nebraska Residents Weary Of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

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Nebraska Residents Weary Of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

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Nebraska Residents Weary Of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Nebraska Residents Weary Of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

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As Congress and the president go toe to toe on the Keystone XL pipeline, that battle is resonating across oil country and especially in Nebraska, the state at the center of the controversial project.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And as that analysis suggests, the facts in the Keystone pipeline debate are not always what they seem. To clarify the picture let's go to the scene of construction, if it ever happens. Here's Grant Gerlock of NET News in Nebraska.

GRANT GERLOCK: I'm standing in front of the pumping station at Steele City, Nebraska, population 61. This is where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would end. I'm about a mile out of town where it's all snowy fields and pastures. Just across the chain-link fence, there are eight great big pipes looping up out of the ground and back down again. From here, oil can flow to the Gulf Coast across the Midwest to ports and refineries. So while the political fight goes on in Washington, people here are thinking about what it means for Nebraska.

MAYOR BILL SCHEELE: I'd like to see it come through. I really would.

GERLOCK: Bill Scheele is the postmaster and mayor of Steele City. He likes that Congress is getting involved because he supports the new expanded pipeline and looks forward to its potential economic impact here. TransCanada built the first smaller pipeline through here a few years ago. It heads east. The southern portion of Keystone XL is already done, so oil can run from Steele City to the Gulf Coast. Scheele says when those other pipelines were built they brought a much-needed financial jolt.

SCHEELE: The cafe or bar across the street catered 30 to 45 meals every day.

GERLOCK: Workers rented homes. The company bought water from the city.

SCHEELE: It brings some activity to town. It keeps us on the map.

GERLOCK: Tammy Katz also lives in Steele City and wants another pipeline to come through.

TAMMY KATZ: We've lived with the pipelines. We have four pipelines coming right through - well, it will be four - coming right through here. And we've had absolutely no problems with them, ever.

GERLOCK: Terry Moore is head of the Omaha AFL-CIO. His union and others support the pipeline because of potential construction jobs for their members.

TERRY MOORE: You could say Canada - it's North America. Canada is producing the oil, we are refining it.

GERLOCK: Of course, Nebraska is also home to some staunch pipeline opponents. They've joined protests in Washington and even staged an anti-pipeline concert in Nebraska in September, with Neil Young and Willie Nelson.

Ken Winston is with the Nebraska Sierra Club.

KEN WINSTON: Well, we intend to continue to have our say, as we have all along. The people who are going to be most impacted by the pipeline should have their voices heard in this process.

GERLOCK: Many landowners still refuse to sign construction contracts with TransCanada, saying they're concerned about their land and groundwater. Winston says if Congress pushes through approval for the pipeline, landowners opposed to the project could be forced to go along with it because of eminent domain.

WINSTON: The federal government has the right to override state decisions. The idea that Congress is going to intervene in a matter and allow a private company, a foreign private company, imminent domain rights, is just ludicrous.

GERLOCK: President Obama says he'll veto the Congressional move on Keystone XL. That pleases Ken Winston, but he wishes the president would take the next step.

WINSTON: We think it's good news. But we think the final decision, the rational decision, is denial of the permit.

GERLOCK: The pipeline is also on the minds of state lawmakers here, not only because of what's happening in Congress, but because of an expected ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court that could come as soon as tomorrow. Last year, a lower court struck down a state law that let the governor approve the pipeline route through Nebraska. If the state supreme court upholds that the decision, it wouldn't block the pipeline out right, but it would be another big delay for TransCanada.

Keystone XL would cut through State Senator Kate Sullivan's district in central Nebraska. She says, more than six years after it was proposed, she's tired of the Keystone debate.

SENATOR KATE SULLIVAN: There's a part of me that says we really need a decision, and however it might go, it would just be nice to know.

GERLOCK: That's a sentiment shared by many here as they wait to see just who will have the final word on Keystone.

For NPR News I'm Grant Gerlock.

(MUSIC)

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