WASHINGTON — Nebraskans fighting to stop the Keystone XL pipeline are feeling optimistic.
President Barack Obama made a high-profile State of the Union pledge Tuesday to address climate change through executive action. More than 20,000 people are expected to show up at the White House today for a major protest against the pipeline.
And the U.S. State Department assured them Friday that it would include its own independent review of TransCanada's new pipeline route through Nebraska in its final environmental impact statement.
That means the State Department will not rely solely on a study by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality that found little environmental risk from the new route.
Those fighting the pipeline describe the state-level study as fundamentally flawed.
Jane Kleeb, founder of the environmental advocacy group Bold Nebraska, said those trying to stop the project see things going their way.
“Now I feel like the momentum is shifting to us after about a month of momentum on their side,” Kleeb said.
More than 125 activists, landowners and concerned citizens road-tripped from Nebraska for what organizers are billing as a historic demonstration.
The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups want to deliver a clear message to the president that he should embrace clean energy and reject a pipeline that would transport crude from Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas.
Pipeline supporters, among which are some labor groups, have launched their own campaign touting the pipeline's benefits for the U.S. economy and the nation's energy independence.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a big pipeline supporter, described the protesters as a “small minority.” He and other Capitol Hill Republicans are readying legislation to force approval of the project.
A small advance team from Bold Nebraska showed up a few days early for meetings with lawmakers and officials at the State Department, which has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crosses an international border.
Several Nebraskans were among the 48 people, including actress Daryl Hannah, arrested midweek after tying themselves to a White House fence in a show of civil disobedience.
Rancher Bruce Boettcher of Bassett, Neb., said the pipeline's new route runs close to his land.
Boettcher said that while the pipeline has been moved, nothing has been done to protect the Ogallala Aquifer, which was the point of the outcry that prompted the Legislature's special session and the route change.
“That has never been addressed,” Boettcher said.
Kleeb and a dozen other Nebraskans met Friday with Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs.
They shared their concerns about the DEQ review of the new route and urged the State Department to hold a public hearing in Nebraska on a draft of the federal study, and to allow for a 120-day comment period.
“I do feel like the president will do right by ranchers,” Kleeb said.
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