Gov. Dave Heineman has approved the new route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska. But environmentalist opponents aren’t giving up their fight against it.
The governor gave his approval in a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton. In it, he cited the review conducted by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. Talking to reporters, he outlined his main considerations:
“Number one, energy independence. Was this going to make America and Nebraska more energy independent? I think it will. Secondly, the economic impact. It’s clear to me that it has a positive economic impact in terms of jobs on Nebraska and America. And the third – very, very important – the environmental impact. And the environmental impact statement suggest it would be a minimal environmental impact if we went forward,” Heineman said.
Pipeline opponent Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska called the governor’s conclusions unjustified. “Governor Heineman essentially used TransCanada’s numbers and TransCanada’s contractor, HDR, to justify approving this pipeline route,” Kleeb said. “What he left out of his letter is that not a single independent risk assessment has been done on the Ogallala Aquifer, and not a single economic risk report has been done on when a spill happens to landowners’ property or the other economic risks that we know come along with an oil pipeline spill.”
University of Nebraska at Omaha professor John Stansbury has done some work on the risks a spill could pose to the aquifer, but Kleeb said DEQ had not incorporated that into its report.
For his part, Heineman discounted Kleeb’s criticism of his route approval. “Bold Nebraska doesn’t favor this pipeline no matter where you put it. So let’s be honest about that,” he said.
Bold Nebraska objected to the original proposed route through the Sandhills. And although the route has now been changed, Kleeb said the organization also objects to the source of the oil, in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. “Bold Nebraska is 100 percent opposed to tar sands. Tar sands is an extreme form of energy. It’s an untested form of oil when it comes to pipeline infrastructure, which is why PHMSA (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) and another federal agency are currently studying the long-term implication of tar sands on our pipeline infrastructure,” Kleeb said.
“So Gov. Heineman’s absolutely right: Bold Nebraska is against tarsands pipelines, and has been from Day One.”
Even though the approval now goes to the State Department for review, Kleeb and Heineman also agreed on where the ultimate decisionmaking lies.
“The President of the United States – President Obama – is going to make this decision. One way or another – either by telling Secretary Clinton or the new secretary (presumably Sen. John Kerry, whom Obama has nominated to succeed Clinton) where he stands. This is a presidential decision. He’s made that abundantly clear,” Heineman said.
Kleeb agreed, and suggested Obama can’t honestly approve the pipeline. “If you listen to President Obama’s inaugural address or you listen to the two times he’s actually talked about the pipeline personally, there’s just not an avenue for him to approve this route,” Kleeb said. “He is concerned about the risks to water, he’s clearly concerned about the risks of climate change. And so with a straight face, there’s no way that he could approve this pipeline.
One other factor that could disrupt the approval process is the fate of a lawsuit filed by Nebraska landowners. It challenges the constitutionality of the law that gives the governor approval power over the route, and says that power rests with the state Public Service Commission instead.