LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska regulators Monday approved a Keystone XL oil pipeline route through the state, breathing new life into the long-delayed $8 billion project, although the chosen pathway is not the one preferred by the pipeline operator and could require more time to study the changes.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission's vote also is likely to face court challenges and may require another federal analysis of the route, if project opponents get their way.
"This decision opens up a whole new bag of issues that we can raise," said Ken Winston, an attorney representing environmental groups that have long opposed the project.
Environmental activists, American Indian tribes and some landowners have fought the project since it was proposed by TransCanada Corp in 2008. It would carry oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to meet the existing Keystone pipeline, where it could move as far as the U.S. Gulf Coast. Business groups and some unions support the project as a way to create jobs and reduce the risk of shipping oil by trains that can derail.
President Barack Obama's administration studied the project for years before finally rejecting it in 2015 because of concerns about carbon pollution. President Donald Trump reversed that decision in March.
The route approved 3-2 by the Nebraska commission would be five miles longer than the one TransCanada preferred and would require an additional pumping station. Commissioners who voted for it said the alternative route would affect less rangeland for endangered species. The commission was not allowed to take into account a leak last week of 210,000 gallons from the existing Keystone pipeline onto South Dakota farmland because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility.
TransCanada CEO Russ Girling issued a statement after the ruling saying the company would study "how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project."
TransCanada has said that it would announce in late November or early December whether to proceed with the pipeline — which would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil a day — and would take into account the Nebraska decision and whether it has lined up enough long-term contracts to ship oil.
The company submitted three proposed routes to the Nebraska commission. The preferred route would have taken a more direct diagonal north to south path across the state and a third route was rejected because it would have crossed the environmentally-fragile Sandhills area.
Keystone XL would expand the existing Keystone pipeline network that went into service in July 2010. The current pipeline runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and extends east into Missouri and Illinois.
More than 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along TransCanada's preferred route have agreed to let the company bury the pipeline beneath their property, but those who oppose it have managed to thwart the project for years. Approval of the route gives TransCanada the ability to seize the land of holdout landowners through eminent domain. The company has said it will use eminent domain only as a last resort.
The approved route would follow the path the company prefers through four northern Nebraska counties. But instead of turning south as company officials had hoped, it would continue southeast to the path of the original Keystone pipeline. The new Keystone XL would then run parallel to the original Keystone pipeline to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pump station.
"We see many benefits to maximizing the co-location of the Keystone XL pipeline with Keystone I," the Commission majority wrote. "It is in the public interest for the pipelines to be in closer proximity to each other, so as to maximize monitoring resources and increase the efficiency of response times."
Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Alliance, a pipeline opposition group, said her coalition still needed to review its options, but added, "We will stand and fight every inch of the way."
The federal government has a say in whether the pipeline is built because it crosses an international border from Canada. Opponents hope the change in the route through Nebraska will require a new review by the U.S. State Department.
A State Department spokeswoman said via email Monday that the agency was aware of the Nebraska commission's vote and was gathering information to decide if the decision would affect the federal permit Trump approved.
ALLEN, Neb. | Many college students take advantage of the weekends to sleep in, maybe watch a little extra TV and take their minds off of classes and homework for a little while.
Hannah Borg likes that break from academics, too, but she prefers to get up early to clean out the barn or drive a tractor pulling a grain cart during harvest.
"There's nothing that resets me more than going home and being on the farm," said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior who's among the sixth generation of Borgs to grow up on the family farm between Allen and Wakefield.
Borg knows other young people like her who feel the same way. The recently installed secretary of the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Council, Borg takes the group's role of promoting agriculture to the state's youth seriously. She works to convince farm kids and other young people that agriculture is a way of life to be enjoyed, not endured.
"I promote not just people returning to agriculture, but I also promote the rural lifestyle," Borg said.
It's a lifestyle she knows well. While a Wakefield High School student, her days began at 6 a.m. with barn chores. It wasn't an enjoyable way to start the day.
"I didn't find the joy in agriculture because it was a chore. Getting up at 6 a.m., that was a chore," the daughter of Terry and Debbie Borg said.
But once she went to college, she began to miss the work and time spent outdoors with her horse, Wilson, and other barn animals.
Now she can't see herself involved in anything but agriculture. An agricultural environmental sciences communications major, Borg plans to work in agriculture-related media someday and, she hopes, live and work on a farm.
"I really like the media aspect of agriculture. I want to stay in agriculture and share the news of agriculture and the stories of agriculture," she said.
She's been spreading the news since the summer after her junior year in high school, when she attended the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute, a five-day event that focuses on agriculture and opportunities in the business. Borg said she was one of many who are surprised to learn there are more careers in agriculture than just farming -- careers like sales, banking and finance, animal science and research and communications. She realized then that agriculture was in her future, and she began to help spread the message.
Borg got involved with the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Council, the youth advocacy arm of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The council coordinates the annual youth institute and sets up tours and career fairs. Last year, as vice president of urban youth outreach, Borg helped lead students from Lincoln elementary schools on farm tours to introduce them to what life on a farm is like.
She's still learning herself.
"In my world, I thought of agriculture as corn and cattle. It's so much more than traditional crops in Nebraska," Borg said.
Run by her dad and his three brothers, the Borg farm is a traditional operation with corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cattle. As Borg has traveled to conventions and meetings and worked as an intern doing radio reporting at the FFA National Convention, she's met people from across the country who grow fruits, vegetables and other lesser-known products. During Christmas break, Borg will be studying abroad in New Zealand to observe agricultural practices there.
"I think we still have a lot more to learn about agriculture," she said.
Which gets her back to her current duties with the youth council and her future plans to work in the media. She'll continue to talk to anyone about farming and share stories about the ag industry to educate the public in the hope that more people will get involved with the most important industry in her state.
"I like to share a positive image of agriculture," she said.
She's positive it's a message that many people her age are open to hearing.
SIOUX CITY | Nearly a half-dozen massage therapists and a pair of human trafficking opponents voiced a combination of support and concern Monday regarding a proposed ordinance that would require massage therapy businesses to obtain a license through the city.
The City Council ultimately passed the first reading of the ordinance 5-0 but declared its intent to work with local therapists as it forms a final draft of the regulations.
Designed to crack down on unauthorized businesses and those covering for illegal activity such as prostitution, human trafficking and drug dealing, the ordinance would require massage therapy businesses to obtain licenses from the city and undergo annual reviews.
Some therapists doubted how much of a difference the local regulations would make, while others said certain aspects of the proposal, such as a prohibition on operating between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., would cut into business.
"I see 14 people a day, and if somebody calls in and they hurt, I'll see them whenever they need," said Lonnie Jensen, co-owner of Mind & Body Connection.
The proposed ordinance change comes after the state legislature removed a portion in the state's code blocking cities from regulating massage businesses. Sioux City had regulated them until about 2003. The new ordinance is similar to an existing one in Johnston, Iowa.
Applications would include identification and information on the businesses' employees, their criminal records, any denials or suspensions of their state massage licenses and other information necessary for background checks.
Licenses will not be granted if the applicant or any owners, managers, employees or agents have a criminal conviction for a sex crime or for keeping a house of prostitution, or if they are a registered sex offender or have been denied a license by any other community.
A violation would be a simple misdemeanor prosecuted through the city.
To provide context, Sioux City Police Sgt. Dane Wagner told the council two months ago, police investigated a local massage parlor, where an undercover officer found there were sex acts taking place inside.
Kathy Spencer Jensen, co-owner of Mind & Body Connection and the Bio Chi Institute of Massage Therapy, agreed human trafficking is a problem but said she believes the issue is bigger than a city issue and should instead be regulated at a higher level.
"This is an international issue," she said. "What we're doing here isn't going to make any difference."
Kevin Trowbridge, owner of Massage and Body, said the exemption of businesses employing a chiropractor could allow some illegal businesses a loophole.
"If they're that organized, they'll all find a chiropractor to work for them," he said. "It might not be a legitimate chiropractor, but they'll find one."
City attorney Nicole DuBois said the city is not allowed to regulate chiropractors.
Mayor Bob Scott said he believes the local regulations and prosecution will make a difference.
"You start doing that over and over again, people don't hang around," he said.
Also speaking during the meeting were two representatives of the Siouxland Coalition Against Human Trafficking, who said they wholeheartedly support the ordinance.
Edits to the ordinance will be on the way before the council passes a second reading.
Scott said he wants to revisit an "unreasonably high" requirement for applications to include proof of insurance in the amount of $2 million per occurrence, $6 million per policy year. DuBois also suggested to include a line requiring applicants to provide copies of their state licenses.
The city will also meet with representatives of the businesses to gather their concerns and feedback.