Regulators approve alt route for pipeline

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska regulators Monday allowed the Keystone XL oil pipeline to clear its final major hurdle, granting a victory to President Donald Trump and Republicans who have for years pressed for the project. But the pipeline company will not be allowed to build along its preferred route, the regulators announced, opening up new questions about how the project will proceed.

The pipeline's future was complicated by the commission's 3-2 vote to approve the alternate route. The decision drew tempered reactions both from opponents of the project and TransCanada, the pipeline company, which was noncommittal about its path forward.

"As a result of today's decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission's ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project," Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The approved route enters Nebraska at the same spot and leads to the same end point as the company's preferred option. But in between, the alternate route veers east to follow the path of the existing Keystone pipeline.

The three commissioners who voted to approve the permit, all Republicans, said in a written opinion that they were very cognizant of the "impacts to the natural resources of the state," but that there was "no utopian option" and that building the pipeline would bring economic benefits to counties along the route.

Two commissioners, one Republican and one Democrat, dissented.

Opponents of the pipeline, including many farmers and ranchers, packed the hearing room for the announcement. Some landowners in attendance found out that their land would no longer be on the pipeline route, while others learned that a path through their property had been approved.

"They're going to rape and pillage our soil," said Art Tanderup, whose farm near Neligh, Nebraska, is along the approved route.

Monday's decision came just four days after another pipeline operated by the same company spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in neighboring South Dakota. But under Nebraska law, the state Public Service Commission is not allowed to consider pipeline safety and spill risks when deciding on a permit.

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