Supporters and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska squared off again Thursday in a congressional hearing in Washington.
The hearing was called by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., who supports the disputed project. Opponents have urged President Barack Obama to reject a federal permit for the proposed Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, saying it doesn't serve U.S. energy interests and threatens Nebraska landowners.
Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Dennis Houston testified that the first Keystone pipeline in Nebraska provided an economic boost to his area during the five-month construction period. Houston said the project created about 750 jobs in the area and generated millions of dollars of spending in the state.
"They all spend their money in our community and all of the neighboring community," Houston said. "It had an economic impact of more than $10 million, and that's a very conservative number."
Jane Kleeb, executive director of anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, argued the project poses an unnecessary risk to Nebraska landowners, with no long-term benefits. Kleeb said many of the jobs for the initial pipeline went to out-of-state workers.
Opponents also have argued that the pipeline threatens the Ogallala aquifer, a massive groundwater supply beneath Nebraska and parts of seven other states.
"Our state's economic backbone is based in agriculture, not oil pipelines," she said. "Our farmers and ranchers' livelihood rely on clean and abundant water from the aquifer."
The $7 billion pipeline has become a contentious issue in Washington, with Republicans and some Democrats touting the jobs it would create and demanding its approval while opponents point to the environmental cost of refining and burning a vast amount of oil refined from Canada's tar sands. The pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil per day.
Obama has thwarted the pipeline project twice amid concerns about a proposed route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. Gov. Dave Heineman and the state's congressional delegation — all Republicans — have backed the plan or relaxed their opposition after the project was re-routed last year.