Gloved hands clutched signs outside the Nebraska Governor’s Mansion Monday evening as almost 100 people stood in a circle around a cluster of candles, a jar of water, a picture of a Nebraska ranch and a map of the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The gathering, organized locally by Bold Nebraska, was just one of 300 vigils across the nation held by opponents of the pipeline, which would run through the heart of America and ship 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada and the Bakken Shale in the United States to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
Coalitions of environmental and landowner rights groups organized the rallies in the wake of the Friday release by the U.S. State Department of a long-awaited environmental impact statement.
Foes of the pipeline are gearing up for a 30-day public comment period on TransCanada’s application to build the pipeline, which begins Wednesday. Also, eight government agencies have 90 days to weigh in on whether the pipeline is in the national interest.
Both opponents and supporters of the pipeline found portions of the environmental report to rally around.
Bold Nebraska Director Jane Kleeb spoke into a megaphone to be heard by the assemblage. She promised they would have the last word on the pipeline, exciting applause and whistles.
And she vowed more rallies to come, including meetings throughout February to encourage raising the issue with political candidates.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of press, essentially, in their excitement to file a story, didn’t actually read the contents of the environmental review,” she told her audience.
After the vigil, Kleeb said the report offers plenty of cause for Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama to deny the federal permit. Obama last year promised the pipeline would only be approved if it "does not significantly exacerbate the climate change problem."
“I honestly, when I started reading, thought for sure the headlines would be ‘Environmentalists gain ground,’” Kleeb said. “It didn’t, so we just keep fighting.”
Kleeb pointed to changes to Nebraska maps that show the pipeline still passes through Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 78 percent of Nebraska’s public water supply and 83 percent of irrigation water.
Meanwhile, oil industry, some union groups and congressional Republicans rallied to call for approval of the project saying the report shows the pipeline passes the president's environmental test.
Kleeb said Bold Nebraska also plans to support candidates for the Nebraska Public Power District, a state board that approves and regulates power projects.
The district is working on a 115,000-volt transmission line to support a pumping station that would be used for the Keystone XL. The $30 million cost of building the additional infrastructure will be paid entirely by TransCanada and the power district is required by law to serve its customers and can’t discriminate, said a company spokesman.
Opponents are also awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit in Lancaster County calling into question constitutionality of Nebraska’s new pipeline siting law.
The case, filed in May by Randy Thompson of Martell, Susan Dunavan of McCool Junction and Susan Luebbe of Stuart, challenges the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act, adopted in a special legislative session in April 2012 to establish a procedure for oil pipeline carriers to seek approval for larger pipelines.
A decision is expected in March, but regardless of the outcome an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court is probable.