Nebraska Governor Approves Keystone XL Re-route
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline expansion, which would ferry Canadian tar sands oil 1,700 miles to refineries in Texas, is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman Tuesday (January 22) signed off on a new route for TransCanada’s $7 billion project, which has drawn protests from environmentalists, farmers and ranchers in the area, but has excited others for its perceived economic impacts.
That sends the proposal to its next and final stop: President Obama.
Heineman’s decision comes more than a year after he asked the president to deny the project a permit, arguing a spill would threaten some of the state’s most sensitive areas — notably the picturesque Sand Hill region and the Ogallala aquifer, the source for about 80 percent of the state’s water for drinking and irrigation. The request came as Nebraska lawmakers readied a last-ditch attempt to give the state siting authority over proposed pipelines.
“This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska's agricultural economy,” Heineman wrote in an August 2011 letter to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will have potentially detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska's economy.”
The new 195-mile leg, studied and proposed by state environmental officials, avoids the Sand Hills region, but still crosses the Ogallala, a reality that has drawn continued protests from the pipeline’s local critics.
“Gov. Heineman just performed one of the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska political history,” said Jane Kleeb, who leads Bold Nebraska, a citizen advocacy group that has staunchly opposed the pipeline. “President Obama is Nebraska’s only hope now.”
Last year, the president rejected the initial route.
In his latest letter to the president, Heineman says the new route would have “minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska,” and that TransCanada has promised to implement several preventative measures, including an emergency response plan. “The concerns of Nebraskans have had a major influence on the pipeline route, the mitigation commitments and this evaluation,” the governor said.
TransCanada cheered Heineman’s decision, saying it moves the nation closer to “enhanced energy security” and “the thousands of jobs it will create.”