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Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

That was fast. Just two months after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unanimously prohibited donations from fossil fuel companies, the DNC voted 30-2 on Friday on a resolution that critics say effectively reverses the ban, The Huffington Post reported.

The resolution, introduced by DNC Chair Tom Perez, allows the committee to accept donations from "workers, including those in energy and related industries, who organize and donate to Democratic candidates individually or through their unions' or employers' political action committees" or PACs.

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350.org's No KeyStone XL Washington, DC march. John Duffy / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Environmentalists spoke out against President Donald Trump's State Department after it found "no significant environmental impacts" in its review of TransCanada's long-gestating Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

The alternative route approved by Nebraska regulators in November would have "minor to moderate" impacts from its construction and operation, according to the 300-page draft report released Monday. It said the route would not have a major impact on the state's water resources, soils or wildlife. It may cause minor impacts on cultural resources such as Native American graves.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

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The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation tweeted: "The #KeystoneXL must be stopped: commit to peaceful resistance on the route http://nokxlpromise.org/ #NoKXL #KeystoneXLPipeline #KeystoneSpill"

Yes, it's true that the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted Monday to approve the long-gestating Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. But don't score it as a win for TransCanada—or as a "boost for Trump"—just yet.

That's because the commission approved the "mainline alternative route," and that's not the route that the pipeline operator wants.

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Collin Rees / Twitter

Pipeline Fighters from Nebraska and across the region marched through the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska Sunday—on the eve of a weeklong public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, where Nebraska farmers and ranchers, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Bold Alliance and other environmental and citizen advocates will present evidence on why TransCanada's tar sands export pipeline is unnecessary and not in the public interest.

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The Nebraska Public Service Commission (NPSC)—the Republican-dominated state board deciding the fate of TransCanada's long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline—have barred experts and homeowners from testifying over potential spills or whether the tar sands pipeline is even necessary during final hearings next week.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that former Lancaster County District Judge Karen Flowers, who was hired by NPSC to conduct the hearings, issued more than 30 rulings based on objections filed by TransCanada.

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Jane Kleeb. Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska

By Nicole Greenfield

In the red state of Nebraska, people know Jane Kleeb for her politics.

She's a progressive Democrat in a land of Trump voters, after all. But people also know the 44-year-old Kleeb, a Florida native who moved to Nebraska in 2007 after marrying into a family of local homesteaders, as someone who can bridge the political divide and unify the most unlikely of groups.

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First "Solar XL" installation of USA-made solar panels in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. Bold Nebraska / Facebook

Keystone XL owner TransCanada told investors Friday that the company was still assessing demand for the project with oil companies, increasing speculation that the controversial pipeline may not see the light of day.

On an investor call, a TransCanada executive called for an "open season" on the Keystone project to attract investor bids, and said the company would assess interest and make a decision on the pipeline by November.

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Bold Nebraska / Twitter

By Ron Johnson

When President Donald Trump signed off on a presidential permit okaying the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in March, it was a real blow to an environmental movement that had tasted victory over the dirty tar sands clunker back in 2015 when President Obama withdrew the permit for the project.

With Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau united in their support of the pipeline, it seemed little could stand in the way of some 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands fuel barreling down a 36-inch crude oil pipe from Hardisty, Alberta through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline seemed destined to pass over, under, and through environmentally sensitive areas such as Nebraska's Sandhills, and put at risk the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest underground freshwater sources.

But not so fast.

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Art and Helen Tanderup with their daughter Vanessa Brand, their grandchildren Kyle and Amelia. Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska

By Nicole Greenfield

When TransCanada began knocking on doors throughout Nebraska in 2008, most residents didn't know much about its Keystone XL pipeline or the dirty tar sands oil it would be transporting. The energy company was negotiating easements with local landowners in order to secure a route for its multibillion-dollar project—which would run north to south through the state, directly through the Ogallala Aquifer and across hundreds of Nebraskan rivers and streams. TransCanada threatened landowners with eminent domain if they didn't comply.

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Encouraged by the Obama administration's shelving of the Keystone XL pipeline and its revoked authorization for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on federal lands, activists are now eyeing new battles.

At least 14 new pipeline projects are in the works, carrying both oil and natural gas. These projects involve at least 24 states, adding to the existing 2.5 million miles of energy pipelines in the U.S.—the largest network in the world. Driven by low natural gas prices and the fracking boom, these new pipelines will cross major urban areas as well as important watersheds.

Some of the proposed pipelines being monitored by activists.Oil Change International/E&E Publishing

Supporters say that they supply energy needs for many communities, provide jobs and are safer for oil transport than truck or rail. Take the case of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline expansion. Running from Louisiana through the Southeast all the way to Long Island, New York, the project is an expansion of an existing Transco pipeline operated by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Companies.

Counting branch pipelines, Transco is a 10,200-mile system that can move 10.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The company transports 10 percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S., but it was built to move gas mainly from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast.

Now, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania provides lower-cost gas and the Atlantic Sunrise will be reconfigured to move product south. In 2014, 1,370 wells were being drilled in the Marcellus, with high-yield wells using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The Marcellus provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

Williams Companies said that construction of the pipeline expansion in Pennsylvania will create 2,300 jobs for one year, with 15 permanent full-time jobs after that for operation and maintenance. Citing U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics, the company's website states that "pipelines are the safest method for transporting energy." They add that their safety practices include 24/7 monitoring of the pipeline.

But critics aren't convinced. While pipelines are, statistically, far safer than trucks or trains, "When a pipeline does fail, the consequences can be catastrophic," ProPublica said.

On a quiet Thursday evening, six years ago this month, a massive blast shattered the peace of San Bruno, California, as a tower of fire erupted from a natural gas pipeline under the city of 41,000. Whipped by fierce winds, the blaze killed eight people and severely injured 58. It destroyed or damaged 55 homes.

Last month, a federal jury convicted Pacific Gas & Electric of obstructing the investigation and violating pipeline safety laws both before and after the explosion.

From October 2015 to February 2016, the largest methane leak in U.S. history spewed out of a natural gas storage field near Porter Ranch, California, releasing 94,500 tons of the powerful greenhouse gas. The leak sickened thousands and forced the temporary relocation of more than 5,000 households. Methane absorbs heat more effectively than carbon dioxide.

"In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide," according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Southern California agreed to pay $4 million to settle criminal charges but still faces civil actions. In March, the Los Angeles Times found leaks in 229 natural gas storage fields in California, and said that they "are often left untreated for months."

Oil-carrying pipelines may leak or rupture, creating dangerous spills. In 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline released 840,000 gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Oil flowed for 17 hours before the pipeline was shut down. Cleanup costs reached $1.2 billion, making this the most expensive on-shore oil spill in U.S. history.

The company agreed to a $177 million settlement, which also included violations relating to a 269,000 gallon pipeline spill in Illinois. And in 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, agreeing Wednesday to a $12 million settlement.

Enbridge, the company responsible for the Kalamazoo River spill, is now seeking to pump 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin by expanding its Alberta Clipper pipeline. This facility crosses the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, along with tribal lands including Fond du Lac, Red Lake Nation and Leech Lake Indian Reservation. Enbridge is also behind the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which threatens the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

While the Obama administration has put a stop to the Dakota Access Pipeline, it has permitted two pipelines linking the Permian Basin in Texas with customers in Mexico. Despite the administration's legacy of conservation actions and its role in the historic Paris climate agreement, fossil fuel development continues unabated. The U.S. Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook 2016 projects a 55 percent increase in natural gas production by 2040.

"The currently planned gas production expansion in Appalachia would make meeting U.S. climate goals impossible," states a July 2016 report published by Oil Change International.

Which brings us back to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The state is enjoying a boom to the tune of more than $10 billion in pipeline projects. Production from the Marcellus gas wells is outpacing the capacity to bring it to market. That's why the Atlantic Sunrise project is seen as key to the state's economy. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has voiced concerns about the pipeline.

In a June 27 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), EPA Associate Director Jeffrey D. Lapp criticized FERC's draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). "[The] EPA is concerned that the selection of the current preferred alternative may result in significant adverse environmental impacts," the letter states.

The EPA also voiced concerns about "terrestrial resources, including interior forests, aquatic resources, rare, threatened and endangered species."

The rush to build pipelines may soon result in overcapacity. Referring to two competing projects in the Mid-Atlantic, the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the Mountain Valley pipeline, the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a report published last week that they would be unnecessary if the Atlantic Sunrise project is completed and a proposed upgrade to an existing Columbia Gas pipeline goes through.

Hundreds of activists, joined by high-profile allies including Susan Sarandon, Shailene Woodley and Josh Fox, rallied outside the U.S. District Court in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Aug. 24.

Against this background, activists look askance at every new pipeline proposal. Protests have taken place against the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in both Pennsylvania and at FERC's office in Washington. The Sierra Club in Pennsylvania is working to stop the pipeline. Elsewhere in the state, both the EPA and National Park Service have condemned FERC's DEIS for the Penn East pipeline, which would connect the Marcellus Shale to markets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline is under attack in New York and New Jersey by residents and numerous conservation groups. More than 60 towns and cities in the two states have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, which would carry oil across major groundwater aquifers and two aqueducts feeding New York City's public water supply.

Another Williams Company project, the Constitution Pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, used eminent domain to force its way across private property, cutting down hundreds of trees to make way for the pipeline. The company had the approval of FERC to proceed.

"I think the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley [pipelines] are cued up to be the next hot spots. They have river crossings, and there are such historic grounds of American history—literally land given by George Washington to families during the wars," Bold Alliance President Jane Fleming Kleeb said. As pipeline builders take private property, desecrate sacred Native American land and attack protesters with dogs and mace, angry citizens prepare for future battles.

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