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The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission held a public hearing Monday night on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would run through the state on its way to the Gulf Coast.

And yet, none of the testimony presented at the 3-hour hearing will affect the final decision on the pipeline.

The hearing was slated for 5:30 p.m. at the state Capitol in Pierre for TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL project, a Canada-to-Texas pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil and 100,000 barrels of crude daily from North Dakota and Montana.

PUC Chairman Chris Nelson says the input will help the panel formulate questions during the pipeline project process.

But by rule, while any comments made Monday might affect a commissioner’s private thoughts, nothing said at the public input session is supposed to matter.

Instead the decision rests on an evidentiary hearing the PUC will hold later this month and as needed in early August. Here is an official statement from the commission regarding the evidentiary hearing, which was originally scheduled for May before it was delayed: “The Commission’s final decision will be based solely on testimony and evidence provided at the hearing,” and not in any public comment sessions.

The utilities commission approved the pipeline's route through South Dakota in 2010. But state law requires the project to go before the commission again if construction on a project hasn't started within four years of being permitted to make sure it still meets the requirements.

Opponents say the pipeline has potential to contaminate ground water and encourage more use of fossil fuels. Others raise concerns about property rights.

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John Harter, a Colome rancher, told the Argus Leader newspaper that landowners are being forced to accept one-time payments from TransCanada to use their land. Harter didn't accept the offer and was taken to court, where he eventually lost on the grounds that the pipeline is considered a public good.

"My end goal is to not have this thing permitted," Harter said.

TransCanada said its pipeline will be one of the safest in North America and crucial to decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil," TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper said.

The utilities commission plans to hold additional hearings on the issue from July 27 to August 4. The earliest the commission could make a decision on the re-certification of the pipeline would be in early August.

— Journal correspondent Bob Mercer contributed to this report.

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