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As hearings begin, upstart Senate candidate backs Keystone pipelineTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Spencer Zimmerman
Courtesy Photo­Image
1,600-mile pipeline route (yellow dots). Orange line is the existing Keystone pipe.
Courtesy Photo­Image
Closer look at Nebraska route
Courtesy Photo­Image
Burying the existing Keystone line.

Differing with Nebraska's top elected officials, U.S. Senate candidate Spencer Zimmerman said Monday he supports the Keystone pipeline project.

Zimmerman's announcement comes as federal hearings about the pipeline get underway in Lincoln as well as Atkinson, near where the line would enter Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman and Sens. Mike Johanns and Ben Nelson all oppose the pipeline on its planned route through the Sandhills.

When a pipeline company logo was displayed on a stadium screen during a recent Nebraska Cornhuskers game, boos rained down from the crowd of 85,000. The university agreed to stop running the controversial ads.

But Zimmerman said America's energy independence is more important than a Senate race.

Zimmerman, 31, is an Air Force veteran who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base for four years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business and is currently driving truck in Omaha.

"As someone who drives for a living, it is unacceptable to simply say you support energy independence as long as it doesn’t run through my backyard, as some Nebraska politicians want to say,” he said.

Zimmerman is a Republican, one of five candidates running for the right to challenge Nelson, the democratic incumbent.

“America will never achieve energy independence without projects like the Keystone pipeline," Zimmerman said. "Better to be dependent on Canadian oil than on Russian or Middle Eastern, we need to end our addiction to hostile foreign sources of oil.”

"It’s more important than a presidential election because it affects all of us each day when we fill up at the pump or hear of a loved one dying in the Middle East," he said.

Federal hearings will be held Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. and again from 4-8 p.m.

in Lincoln at the Pershing Center.

A public hearing will also be held 4:30-10 p.m. Thursday at West Holt High School in Atkinson.

Nationally, the public comment period will officially close Oct. 9 and the final go, no-go decision is expected by year's end.

Pipeline opponents are currently publishing emails between the U.S. State Department and Paul Elliott, TransCanada’s lobbyist who was previously a high-ranking aide on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Clinton, the secretary of state, has to sign a permit to allow the pipeline.

"The first batch of 34 documents, all originating from the Office of the Secretary, raise serious questions about State Department bias, especially in light of Clinton’s comment last year that she was “inclined” to approve the project before a legally required environmental review was even close to completion," said the enviromental group, Friends of the Earth.

More than 1,200 people have been arrested since August at the White House, during ongoing protests of the pipeline.

The pipeline would carry 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day, laid through the aquifer at the depth of at least four feet, raising fears of catastrophic damage if part of the tube were to rupture.

Retired UNL water expert Jim Goeke of North Platte recently said such fears are more emotional than based on scientific facts. He said the aquifer is composed of layers of loose sand, sandstone, soot and gravel that would impede the spread of an oil leak.

But opponents say a small hole in the bottom of the pipe could go undetected for a significant time and damage could be irrevocable. They point to Keystone's slow responses to leaks in existing pipelines earlier this year, including one near Yellowstone Park.

The Friends of the Earth said the "most troubling documents (emails) indicate that State Department officials sought to help TransCanada by providing information about State’s internal thinking and by coaching TransCanada on what to say as it responded to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the oil company’s controversial tar sands pipeline."

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 9/26/2011
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