By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has approved the rerouted Keystone XL oil pipeline path through Nebraska, putting the final decision squarely in the lap of President Obama’s administration.
His decision comes after reviewing a 2,000-page state report on the new route through Nebraska which found that the Keystone XL pipeline “could have minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska,” according to Nebraska’s environmental regulatory agency.
The Keystone XL project would move oil from Canada to Texas, including 195 miles through nine Nebraska counties. The U.S. State Department is working on its own environmental review of the proposed pipeline, which is expected to be released sometime in the first quarter of 2013.
Nebraska’s approval of the route puts pressure on Obama to live up to his promises to combat climate change — although labor unions have generally supported the pipeline and jobs it would bring. In his inaugural address Sunday, Obama promised to respond to the threat of climate change, saying failure to do so would “betray our children and future generations.”
In a letter to the State Department explaining his decision, Heineman cited the points made in the state Department of Environmental Quality report, which said the new route avoids the ecologically fragile Sandhills. The route still crosses portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, but the report claims any oil spill “should be localized” and TransCanada would be responsible for any cleanup. He noted construction of the pipeline is expected to create $418 million in economic benefits, according to the $5 million DEQ study, which was largely paid for by TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline.
In areas of northern Nebraska where the soil is susceptible to erosion, TransCanada would use “special procedures” to build the pipeline. TransCanada also agreed to 57 “special conditions” governing the pipeline’s construction, operation and maintenance that would be enforced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The company agreed to carry at least $200 million in liability insurance to cover “sudden and accidental pollution incidents from Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska.” TransCanada first applied for a federal permit to build the pipeline in 2008, but ran into stiff opposition in Nebraska. In late 2011, TransCanada agreed to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills, but the project still faces considerable opposition in the state, where about 800 people showed up for the final DEQ public hearing on the project in December.
TransCanada CEO Russ Girling welcomed the governor’s decision, saying it “moves us one step closer to Americans receiving the benefits of Keystone XL – the enhanced energy security it will provide and the thousands of jobs it will create.”
“The need for Keystone XL continues to grow stronger as North American oil production increases and having the right infrastructure in place is critical to meet the goal of reducing dependence on foreign oil,” he said in a press release. “Keystone XL is the most studied cross-border pipeline ever proposed, and it remains in America’s national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment.”
Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, a free-market advocacy group, applauded the governor for approving the revised route.
“Governor Heineman’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is an important step towards greater economic growth, energy security and the creation of thousands of new, good-paying jobs,” state director Brad Stevens said in a news release. “The majority of Nebraskans support this project because after years of thoughtful study and a reroute of the project that avoids the Sandhills, we recognize the project is safe and will be a catalyst for economic growth.”
But the grassroots group that mobilized in opposition to the pipeline in Nebraska, Bold Nebraska, said the governor just performed “one of the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska political history.”
“He approved the pipeline route that crosses the aquifer after he asked Obama to deny the route that crossed the aquifer,” Bold Nebraska leader Jane Kleeb said in an email. “Heineman also turns his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline.”
Kleeb said “President Obama is our only hope now.”
“It is clear given what President Obama said about climate change yesterday (during his inauguration speech) that Heineman did not want to be on the same side as Obama. It is a shame when a politician these days can’t cross party line even to stand up for our water and family farmers and ranchers.”
Bold Nebraska is party to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law giving the governor authority to approve the pipeline.