Governor Heineman will not speak at the public hearing held today in Lincoln by the State Department on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying his views are well known. But the governor is urging that Nebraska residents show up and voice their opinions.
Heineman has told reporters that he will not attend or speak at the public hearing that begins at Noon today in the Pershing Center, just blocks from the Capitol. No one from the administration plans to speak.
The State Department began holding public hearings on TransCanada’s proposed $7 billion oil pipeline Monday with hearings in both Port Arthur, Texas and Topeka, Kansas. The State Department will hold two hearings in Nebraska. Today, the hearing is scheduled to begin at Noon in Pershing, take a break at 3:30pm, resume at 4pm and wrap up at 8 o’clock. Thursday, a hearing will be held at West Holt High School in Atkinson, located in the Sand Hills, beginning at 4:30pm.
It is the Sand Hills of Nebraska that is getting much of the attention. Though the 1,700 mile pipeline will travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to take oil deposits from tar sands in western Canada to refineries at the Gulf Coast, the route through Nebraska has raised concerns even from those favorable toward the pipeline’s economic benefits.
Heineman has stuck with the mantra that he supports the pipeline, but not the route. He says the Sand Hills are too fragile an environment and the Ogallala Aquifer too precious a water supply to put at risk of an oil spill. He has written the Obama Administration asking that the pipeline not be granted a permit unless the route avoids the Sand Hills and the aquifer and has asked TransCanada officials to change the route, perhaps running it next to an existing pipeline in eastern Nebraska.
The governor says the public hearings in Nebraska provide an opportunity for citizens to have a say and he urges them to take advantage of it.
“Nebraskans are very, very good at speaking in short, but direct sentences of how they feel,” according to Heineman.
Heineman said hopes the public hearings make a difference.
“I do think we can still have an impact,” Heineman told reporters at a news conference. “If large numbers show up, they clearly articulate the concerns they have, I’m hopeful the president and Secretary of State will listen.”
Listen is apparently what the State Department intends to do. The format of the public hearings is to take testimony, not to respond. The testimony will be added to the record which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will use to make her decision on whether to grant the pipeline a permit. An environmental study conducted for the Department of State concluded that the pipeline poses little environmental threat to the Sand Hills or the Ogallala Aquifer. A University of Nebraska engineering professor came to a much different conclusion, stating that TransCanada has been extremely optimistic about the safety of the pipeline and how quickly it could respond to an oil spill.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45 mp3]