speaker in cowboy hat at hearing
Reuters / Dave Weaver
Randy Thompsen tells State Department officials why Keystone XL is a terrible idea.

More than 1,000 people traveled from far and wide to snowy Grand Island, Neb., on Thursday to tell the State Department what they think of plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Commenters had a maximum of three minutes apiece to speak their minds during the hearing at the Heartland Events Center, which, according to Reuters, is “a venue more used to hosting monster-truck derbies and antique shows.”

Thursday’s eight-hour hearing allowed members of the public to formally comment on the State Department’s draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the pipeline. It’s the only hearing State is expected to hold on the report, which effectively concluded that there is no environmental reason not to build the pipeline. That conclusion is, of course, hotly disputed, especially in the wake of the recent spill from a tar-sands oil pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

The Lincoln Journal Star describes the crowd at the hearing:

[H]undreds of critics with rural addresses, young, old and in between turned out in red, white and blue shirts with the words “Pipeline Fighter” spread across their chests. Tribal leaders also weighed in strongly against the project.

There to counter them were busloads of union workers from Omaha, plumbers, welders and pipeline fitters wearing blue and orange shirts, many of them bearing the words “Approve the KXL pipeline so America works.”

But the sides were not evenly matched: “for every voice of support there were at least a dozen against” the pipeline, reports The New York Times.

The hearing … drew hours of emotional testimony, mostly from opponents of Keystone XL, who whooped and applauded when anyone from their ranks spoke, and solemnly hoisted black scarves that read “Pipeline Fighter” during comments by the project’s supporters.

“The Keystone ‘Export’ pipeline is not in the national interest, and it is most certainly not in Nebraska’s interest,” said Ben Gotschall, a young rancher, one of the first speakers at the hearing, which was held in a large events hall at the state fairgrounds here.

“Our landowners have been left to fend for themselves against an onslaught of dishonest land agents and corporate bullies,” Mr. Gotschall said.

Nebraska has been a rallying point for environmental groups, landowners and ranchers who oppose the 1,700-mile proposed pipeline, which would carry diluted bitumen from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Many who didn’t make it to the Nebraska hearing have submitted written comments on the environmental impact statement — at least 807,000 of them. More comments will be accepted through April 22, and the State Department is considering a request to extend the comment period for another 75 days. State said in March that it wouldn’t release the comments publicly, but this week it reversed course and said all comments would be posted online, Bloomberg reports.