Emotional testimony at pipeline hearing

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September 27th, 2011

Omaha, NE – U.S. State Department officials are getting a loud earful from supporters and opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the Nebraska state capital.

Tuesday’s public hearing is the first of two set to take place in Nebraska this week. Several hundred supporters and opponents rallied outside the Pershing Center in Lincoln. And indoors, testimony was also loud and passionate.

Keystone XL pipeline opponents arrived at Lincoln, Nebraska's Pershing Auditorium several hours before the public meeting Tuesday. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

Amid shouts of “it’s about time,” State Senator Ken Haar took the stand as one of the first to speak in opposition. Haar has been a leading critic of the pipeline, which would transport tar sand oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also set to cross over Nebraska’s massive underground water reservoir: the Ogallala aquifer.

“Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting, and we are in a fight for our water. TransCanada is in a fight for more profit,” Haar said to boos and applause. “It’s the water we drink; it’s the water that enables our agricultural economy; it’s the water that is more valuable than oil.”

Haar said the federal government and the pipeline operator, TransCanada, are trying to define the national interest and “don’t give a damn about Nebraska.”

The number of supporters and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were about equal at the hearing. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

Gary Headman, who heads the Southern Public Power District based in Grand Island, followed Haar to testify in support of the pipeline. Addressing the opponents, he said he believes many of those against the pipeline simply distrust big corporations.

“It’s a fear in my opinion that just has not been justified by any scientific studies that have been conducted,” Headman said. “But they still don’t know TransCanada and why should we trust them with our water? Well, in my position with Southern Power District, I’ve been working with various officials from this company for three years. We’ve had numerous face-to-face meetings, we’ve found them to be reliable, reputable, they deal with issues that we have faced in a very professional manner, they accept responsibility where and when they need to.”

Federal officials have said they will decide whether to grant the pipeline’s permit by the end of the year. Both Nebraska Senators, and Governor Dave Heineman, have urged the State Department to re-route the pipeline – so that it can still be built, but without crossing the aquifer. The second public hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Atkinson, Nebraska.

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