Two-thirds of Nebraska’s senators have signed a letter encouraging the state's Public Service Commission to approve the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline, citing the impact it will have on job growth and property taxes.
“As members of the Nebraska Legislature, we are well-versed in the issues and history surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline project and wholeheartedly support the project moving forward,” says the letter, which is signed by 33 of the state's 49 senators.
Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada needs the Public Service Commission, an independent five-member elected board, to approve its 275-mile route through Nebraska before it can begin construction here or move forward with eminent domain to force easements from landowners who refuse to give them voluntarily. It would pass through nine Nebraska counties.
The underground crude-oil pipeline, which has a price tag of $8 billion, would span a total of 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City on Nebraska’s southern border, where it would hook into an existing pipeline network connected to Gulf Coast refineries.
Construction of the Keystone XL, which would take about two years, would support 42,000 temporary jobs, of which about 3,900 would be in construction with the rest in indirect support roles like food service, according to the U.S. State Department’s environmental review of the project.
The senators' letter points to a 2013 Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality report that estimated TransCanada's project would give a $418 million economic boost to the state, supporting 4,560 new or existing jobs during the construction period.
The State Department estimated the pipeline would create about 35 permanent jobs in the United States.
The economic benefits to Nebraska would include the collection of $16.5 million in sales or use tax, as well as between $11 million and $13 million in property taxes the first year of operation. The amount of property taxes will decrease annually because Nebraska has a personal property tax depreciation allowance.
“Additional jobs will increase the tax base and the property tax revenue generated from the project will ease the property tax burden for Nebraskans living in those counties along the route,” Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion said in a prepared statement.
Keystone XL opponents argue foreign companies shouldn’t be allowed to use eminent domain for private gain, and that the risk of a leak polluting land and local water sources outweighs economic gains.
"Keystone XL is a foreign-owned pipeline, using foreign, non-union steel, transporting foreign oil, headed to the foreign export market," said Jane Kleeb, president of Bold Alliance, a group that made a name for itself fighting against the Keystone XL. "We stand with the United Steelworkers union demanding U.S. steel, landowners defending their property rights from eminent domain, and our Native allies as we all take action to protect our water."
The letter from the senators says the Keystone XL will be one of the safest pipelines ever built.
Public Service Commission spokeswoman Deb Collins said all comments regarding the pipeline siting application are welcome, whether in support or opposition, and the senators' letter will be treated just like any other correspondence.
“The Commission is committed to building a comprehensive record of evidence, information, and comment relating to the application in accordance with the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act,” Collins said in an email.
The Commission also has the ability to hold meetings along the proposed route to gather comment from the public, although it has not announced how many meetings will be held or where they will be.
President Donald Trump in January revived the Keystone XL project by inviting TransCanada to reapply for a permit allowing construction across the border between the U.S. and Canada. Former President Barack Obama denied the permit in 2015 saying to do otherwise would be antithetical to the U.S. taking a leadership role in efforts to decrease global warming.
The Nebraska senators’ letter notes that before Obama’s rejection, the Keystone XL underwent extensive reviews by both the State Department and state Department of Environmental Quality, processes that included extensive public input.