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Public Submits Comments On Keystone XL Pipeline

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The public had its first and only chance to meet with State Department officials about a new environmental analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday. As Olivia Reingold of Yellowstone Public Radio reports, attendees traveled hundreds of miles to Billings, Mont., to submit their comments on the controversial pipeline.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No tar sands. No way. Not ever. Not today.

OLIVIA REINGOLD, BYLINE: On a windy, frigid Montana night, Patricia Iron Cloud and about 60 others were protesting the Keystone XL pipeline ahead of a public meeting.

PATRICIA IRON CLOUD: I think it's at least 19 degrees right now. Who does that? (Laughter).

REINGOLD: She's a tribal council member for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and says she drove over six hours in the snow to deliver this message.

IRON CLOUD: The government needs to speak with us as people. You know, we have our children, our grandchildren. I have 46 grandchildren.

REINGOLD: Later, Iron Cloud went inside to declare her opposition to the pipeline at a comment station with a stenographer. Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the U.S. State Department is involved. It's collecting public comments on its revised environmental impact statement for the pipeline. If built, the controversial project would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Nebraska.

The Obama administration killed the pipeline, but President Trump revived it. The State Department event wasn't a hearing, more like an open house with poster boards, maps of the pipeline's proposed path and occasional arguments between people who came to offer comment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you don't sign the contract, your land will be taken through eminent domain. How is that a fair process?

TODD TIBBETTS: Excuse me. Keystone has treated me more than fair.

REINGOLD: That's alfalfa farmer Todd Tibbetts, who owns a 1-mile stretch of land in northeast Montana that the pipeline would cross. After things cool down, he tells me the pipeline's owner, TC Energy, would give him a stipend worth 2% of his annual income.

TIBBETTS: But the big winners, I think, locally is going to be the county for schools, roads, hospitals.

REINGOLD: That's because the pipeline could more than double property tax receipts in some counties. This dialogue is what James Dewey, a spokesperson for the State Department, says was the point of Tuesday's event.

JAMES DEWEY: Gathering those comments is really important. And you know - and you've heard me say this, and I'll say it again. Like, we think it's really important that people write those comments down so they can be part of the record.

REINGOLD: The comment period for the State Department's environmental draft ends November 18, but the pipeline continues to be challenged on multiple legal fronts. For NPR News, I'm Olivia Reingold in Billings, Mont.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAT JON'S "624 PART 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.