WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry was an early and ardent supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sen. Mike Johanns, a fellow Nebraska Republican, was an outspoken critic until the pipeline's route was changed. Now he's a big booster as well.
Republican Rep. Adrian Smith took a more measured approach toward the controversial project. He represents Nebraska's sprawling 3rd Congressional District, which would be home to most of the pipeline's route through the state.
But Smith told The World-Herald last week that he has been impressed with what he's heard about the environmental safeguards that come with the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I think that today's technology can protect the environment very effectively, and that's why I think we need to look for a way to get this done,” Smith said.
The 3rd District includes the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer. Pipeline opponents say both would be in danger from the more than 800,000 barrels of crude a day flowing through the pipeline, although a U.S. State Department analysis has found that the project would pose little risk to those resources.
“We know that we want to protect a tremendous natural resource, that being the aquifer and water in general,” Smith said. “And we can do that with a good amount of technology.”
He mentioned the pipeline itself, which he said would be more heavy-duty than many already running across Nebraska.
The pipeline would run from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in Texas and requires State Department review and presidential approval because it crosses an international border.
Smith's Omaha colleague Terry has been pushing legislation that would take the decision out of the president's hands and simply deem the project approved.
Smith isn't sure whether that's the best way forward. He said he's still reviewing the legislation.
But he said there's clearly a lot of frustration from the more than four years the pipeline has been under review, and he hears from constituents that it's time to get it moving.
That feeling, however, isn't universal.
One of Smith's constituents is Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, the group leading the fight in the state against the pipeline.
Bold Nebraska says the pipeline would do little to help the nation's energy independence or bring down prices at the pump because much of the oil would simply be refined and shipped off to China. The group describes the environmental reviews that found little risk as inadequate.
Opponents also say the pipeline would greatly expand development of the oil sands, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating global climate change.
Pipeline opponents have sought to highlight the fact that a lawsuit is pending that challenges the constitutionality of the law that paved the way for a new pipeline route.
“Congress would be wise to stay out of trying to force the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” Susan Dunavan, a plaintiff and landowner, said in a statement. “The route and process of eminent domain are far from settled in Nebraska. Landowners have rights and will ensure our land and water are protected and our state constitution followed.”
Asked about pipeline opponents in Nebraska, Smith said some people simply don't want to add any more fossil fuels to the nation's energy supply.
“That does not help our economy, to have such a strident position of no more additional fossil fuels,” Smith said.
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