By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

Today was Montanans’ chance to speak up about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil from tar sands in northern Canada into the United States. The U.S. State Department is holding a hearing in Glendive, focusing on whether the pipeline is “in the national interest,” before making a final decision on a special federal permit for construction of the U.S. part of it.

Wheat farmer Patty Ler in Terry plans to testify. She says TransCanada Corp., the company building the line, has been less than upfront about many aspects of the project, and the lure of new construction jobs is blurring concerns about the lack of a publicly-available emergency management plan to protect life and property.

“I’ve had people say that we should stand aside because the country needs oil, or the country needs these resources. Well, it’s not the country that needs the resources. It’s China.”

Ler points out that the most of the oil in the line would be Canada’s, and that the refinery in Texas is also an export hub to send oil to other countries. She says nowhere has there been a promise that the oil would stay in the U.S.

Ler says she’s not against pipelines. She believes they’re needed, but says this project is being proposed by a company with a poor track record, and safety precautions need to be required. There have been 14 leaks on TransCanada’s other Keystone pipeline in just one year.

“I feel that a lot of people are very ignorant about this issue. Until it concerns them or is on their back door, you’re just not really aware of what’s going on.”

Ler is a member of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group, which is carpooling to get about 30 people to the hearing. Other organizations, both for and against the pipeline, are also organizing transportation to the hearing.

The hearing is 4:30 to 10 p.m., Dawson Community College, Toepke Auditorium. KXGN.com will live-stream the hearing.

State Department information at keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov