Gubernatorial Candidate From Keystone XL Battleground State Connects Pipeline To Climate Change

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook speaks in Omaha, Neb., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, after being endorsed by three former Omaha mayors, including Mike Fahey, right, and Mike Boyle, left.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline goes beyond concern for his state: primarily, he’s worried about climate change.

“I believe, from all my experience, that building the infrastructure to help facilitate that development [of tar sands] will help speed that development, and ultimately I think that contributes to climate change,” he told ThinkProgress. “For me, it’s a climate change issue.”

Nebraska has become home one of the most heated battles over Keystone XL in the country. It’s the only state on the pipeline’s proposed route in which residents have continued to refuse to sign away their land to TransCanada, and anti-Keystone XL groups like Bold Nebraska have helped drum up fierce opposition in the state.

Hassebrook is also concerned about the potential for TransCanada to use eminent domain to secure the land of the holdout landowners.

“The whole idea of eminent domain is we take peoples’ property rights when there’s a compelling public interest,” he said. “From my perspective, I don’t see the compelling public interest for the people of Nebraska in helping a Canadian company sell Canadian oil to the Chinese.”

But Hassebrook is alone in the race with his opposition to the pipeline, whose exact route won’t be set until the state’s Supreme Court hears arguments over it in 2015 but, if approved by the White House, is set to bisect Nebraska. Hassebrook’s Republican opponent, Pete Ricketts, supports the pipeline’s construction, saying in April that he thinks transporting oil by pipeline “can be much safer and more environmentally responsible than transport by rail or truck,” and that the pipeline “will provide economic benefits for Nebraskans in terms of new jobs and increased local tax revenues.”

“It will help create jobs, and I think the fundamental question we’re facing here in the state is how we grow Nebraska,” Ricketts told the Omaha World-Herald this week.

Hassebrook, though, has a different plan for jobs in Nebraska. He wants to tap the state’s vast potential for wind energy, which was ranked fourth in the nation and which he says so far hasn’t been developed as much as it should be.

“We’re way behind most of our neighbors, and it reflects a profound lack of leadership,” he said. “And it is costing us thousands of good jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax revenue.”

Hassebrook said he wants to approach private companies that have expressed interest before in building wind transmission lines in Nebraska and try to find ways to export wind power out of the state. He also said he’s interested in looking into temporary production tax incentives for wind, which he said some surrounding states have already implemented and that Nebraska should consider if it wants to be competitive in the wind energy market. Right now, Nebraska ranks 20th in the country for total megawatts of installed wind capacity, and two-thirds of the state’s power comes from coal. Keystone XL would create few permanent jobs, while harnessing the power of wind energy could create thousands, he said.

Hassebrook and Ricketts are also split over their views on climate change. Ricketts is skeptical that climate change is occurring, telling the Omaha World-Herald that he thinks “it is far from clear — despite what the other side is saying — it is far from clear what is going on with our climate.” Hassebrook said his concern about climate change is grounded in his upbringing, which taught him that people shouldn’t live in the present at the expense of the future.

“This is an issue where I think we have an obligation to our kids and grand-kids to step up, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” he said. “I think to walk away from that responsibility to the next generation — because it’s easier to just walk away and ignore it — is anything but conservative, and it doesn’t reflect Nebraska’s values.”

Both candidates, however, have acknowledged that the fight over Keystone XL is largely out of their hands now. In February, a District Court judge struck down a Nebraska rule that gives the state’s governor the power to approve pipeline routes. The ruling means that there’s currently no approved route through Nebraska for Keystone XL, and the state’s Supreme Court will to take up the case in September. But the court’s decision isn’t expected until 2015, and ultimately, it’s President Obama who will make a final call on the pipeline.