PIERRE, S.D. – Utility regulators approved 43 applications Tuesday from individuals and groups that want to have a say in South Dakota's decision on whether to re-approve part of the Keystone XL pipeline that would run through the state if it is ever built.
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The state Public Utilities Commission approved all of the groups that requested "party status" — including 15 from Nebraska — despite some objections from TransCanada Corp. Thirty-five of the applications expressed reservations over the project, and one landowner said he was "bullied" by the operator of the proposed pipeline during negotiations to cross his property — an assertion the company denies.
TransCanada had formally asked the commission last month to reapprove the project, which the state initially authorized in 2010. State rules dictate permits must be reapproved if the construction of the project does not start within four years of their issuance.
Most of the applicants that requested "party status" shared concerns over negative effects the pipeline could have on private land, the potential impact on drinking water and the possible destruction of culturally significant Native American sites. Party status allows a city, county, governmental agency, nonprofit organization or individual to cross-examine witnesses and take part in the discovery process.
The proposed project would transport oil from Canadian tar sands through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The South Dakota portion of the project is about 315 miles long and would extend from the Montana border in Harding County to the Nebraska border in Tripp County.
The Keystone XL pipeline has been delayed for years awaiting a decision by the federal administration of President Barack Obama. The White House said earlier this year that it was putting off a decision indefinitely.
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All applicants approved to participate Tuesday must provide evidence for any claims made at the next hearing held by the commission, a date for which has not been set. There is no timeline for the entire re-approval process.
Jane Kleeb, the executive director of Bold Nebraska, said her group applied to join the process because it wants to give landowners the ability to contest the conditions of the pipeline.
TransCanada didn't oppose the majority of the applicants, but did seek to block the citizens from Nebraska, an international environmental group and two men from Minnesota. Attorney William Taylor, representing TransCanada, said the Nebraska citizens didn't fall under the requirements of the South Dakota law that allows citizens to intervene.
"TransCanada does not want to quiet their voices," he said, "only have their voices heard in the appropriate manner."
The commissioners eventually approved all groups after deciding that the South Dakota law was fairly broad and allowed for most interested groups who wished to join.
Mark Cooper, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in a statement that the "professional activists" that are intervening "do not speak for the majority of Americans who want to see Keystone XL built."