News flash: Some Nebraskans don’t want the Keystone XL pipeline. And they’re not afraid to say so.
That doesn’t make them terrorists.
Pipeline opponents have turned out at public hearings in Nebraska, as have supporters of the project that has been proposed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Nebraskans, including top state officials, objected to the pipeline’s initial route through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills and over the Ogallala Aquifer.
Now that the pipeline’s builder has prudently modified the proposed route, some Nebraskans and others remain opposed.
Some of them are farmers and ranchers who’d rather not have the 36-inch-diameter pipeline crossing their land. Others see the pipeline as an unacceptable environmental risk.
The Obama administration must approve the pipeline, and it has yet to make a decision.
As we’ve said before, federal approval should be a given. The United States would benefit from a supply of energy from a friendly neighbor, and studies suggest that Nebraska could get $1.8 billion in economic benefits.
However, a presentation that pipeline builder TransCanada delivered to Nebraska law enforcement officials suggested anti-terrorism laws may be needed to combat threats to the pipeline. And that’s a stretch.
The group Bold Nebraska, a vocal opponent of the Keystone XL line, obtained the presentation through open records laws and posted it on the group’s website. As The World-Herald’s Joe Morton reported Monday, one page was marked “Incident history — Nebraska” and cited protests by Bold Nebraska, as well as “opposition attendance” and “suspicious vehicles/photography” at the company’s Omaha office. It referred to “Northern NE — aggressive abusive landowners” but also included the notation “level of capability and intent — low.”
The presentation discussed incidents in other locations, where protesters not from Nebraska locked themselves onto heavy equipment, built treehouses in the path of the route, vandalized equipment or took other steps to block construction of the company’s pipelines.
A company official said it was sharing information with law enforcement officials, not directing them, and that acts of intimidation by pipeline opponents are not isolated.
If lawbreaking occurs in Nebraska, that’s unacceptable. If threats are made against TransCanada employees, if equipment is sabotaged, if protests become property damage — then law enforcement authorities can and should deal with it appropriately.
But lawful opposition — attending public meetings, offering opposing testimony, speaking out peacefully — is in keeping with the nation’s tradition of free speech and robust debate on matters of public importance.
Indeed, Nebraskans’ opposition to the initial proposal helped improve the pipeline’s route — moving it away from much of the Sand Hills and aquifer. In the end, that change may help TransCanada win the U.S. government’s needed OK.
Pipeline opponents need to respect the law, and its builder needs to respect their right to peacefully object.