Over 500 protesters from across the country converged outside the state Capitol and onto downtown streets Sunday afternoon in response to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
The protest comes on the eve of week-long proceedings in front of the Nebraska Public Service Commission where local landowners, TransCanada representatives, Native American tribal leaders and others will present testimony on whether or not the pipeline serves the public interest.
The proceedings mark the last major hurdle TransCanada must get over for approval of the pipeline, which would carry nearly 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska for export.
K Street on the north side of the Capitol was blocked off as hundreds of sign-bearing protesters gathered.
After speakers rallied the crowd, Native protesters astride horses led a march north down 16th Street.
Police cordoned off the rest of the march that swung down N Street and headed back to the Capitol down 13th Street, passing the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel, where the public service commission hearings will kick off Monday morning.
Jane Kleeb, an organizer of the protest and head of advocacy group Bold Nebraska, said the proposed pipeline has been stopped in the past and will be stopped again.
"There is absolutely no reason that the public service commission would grant a permit to a foreign corporation ... shipping foreign tar sands to the foreign export market all for their bottom line, when that has nothing to do with Nebraska's public interest," Kleeb said.
Native American protester Lydia West, flew in from San Diego, California on Saturday to attend the "Give Keystone XL the Boot" protest.
She said she wants to stand up with other Native tribes whose land the pipeline would bisect.
"Nebraskans have shown time and time again that they don't want this," said West, the daughter of a Omaha tribesman.
The proposed pipeline, which would complete the 1,719-mile route from Alberta to Nebraska, has spurred concern over potential oil spills that could pollute water and soil in the Sandhills and near the Ogallala aquifer.
It seemed as if the proposed pipeline had no future after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada’s application in November 2015.
But hope for TransCanada was renewed when President Donald Trump revived the project days after his January inauguration.
Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup, who owns land along the pipeline route, called the project “a totally unfair business takeover” in which only TransCanada stands to profit.
He also criticized the public service commission hearings for not allowing certain issues to be talked about, including safety, which state law prohibits from discussion.
“There are so many reasons that this pipeline is wrong,” Tanderup said. “Yet we have to spend a week trying to get supposedly common-sense people to understand why it’s so wrong.”
Jacqueline Rodkewich of Minnesota bussed to Lincoln with others pipeline protesters. Busses also brought in activists from places like Denver, Wichita, Kansas, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota.
Rodkewich made the trip to stand with tribes like the Ponca and Omaha, whose land the pipeline would cross.
“This issue is nationwide,” Rodkewich said. “And I would go to lift up whatever voice needs to be heard. I will go and stand with those people.”
Protesters at Sunday's March carried signs blasting TransCanada and the oil industry.
Some carried pieces of a cardboard pipeline with painted slogans that equated Keystone XL to corporate greed and pollution.
On the other end of the issue, pipeline supporters prepared for the week-long battle ahead their own way, hosting a barbecue with TransCanada officials at the Laborers Training Center in Omaha.
Fred Brown with Common Sense Energy Solutions, a pro-pipeline organization, criticized Sunday's protest for inciting fear and opposition against American energy.
"The facts are that pipelines, like Keystone, will create thousands of jobs, raise millions of dollars in revenues for local communities, and bring in millions in labor wages," Brown said in a statement.
The Public Service Commission hearing will take place every day this week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Seating is limited.
Retired Lancaster County Judge Karen Flowers will preside over the hearing alongside five of the commission’s elected members, who will decide the pipeline’s fate.
A decision from the commission is expected by November.
The proceedings will also be streamed live online at netnebraska.org. For highlights, follow Journal Star reporter Zach Pluhacek on Twitter @zachami.