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July 3, 2013

Keystone XL foes turn focus to local government

LINCOLN, Neb. — Frustrated with state and federal officials, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are turning to low-level county commissions and zoning boards in a new attempt to slow a project that has become a focal point of national battle over climate change.

Landowners and other opponents of the pipeline, which could carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, are asking county commissions along the route to pass resolutions formally opposing the project to show the federal government there is local opposition. They're also pushing for local zoning regulations — no matter how small — that could make it harder for the project to proceed.

"If enough counties have regulations — real, meaningful regulations to protect the groundwater — then maybe it hits a point where it's not very economical to run this thing through Nebraska," said Brian Bedient, a farmer in eastern Nebraska, the state where the opposition effort is based.

The new local strategy comes as most state officials in Nebraska have dropped their opposition since Calgary-based pipeline owner TransCanada agreed to move the proposed route away from an ecologically sensitive area. Federal agencies and other states on the route have not raised obstacles to the plan. President Obama, who has expressed some concerns about the impact on climate change, could make a decision later this year on whether to give final government approval.

National environmental groups charge that the United States should not cooperate with fossil fuel projects that would contribute to global warming. But project supporters argue that the U.S. is better off with more oil produced in friendly countries than hostile ones.

The proposed pipeline route crosses 12 Nebraska counties, each with a local government commission. In April, Holt County became the first in Nebraska to pass a resolution opposing the project. Landowners in York County will ask the county board to approve a similar measure this month.

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