Last Tuesday, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman announced in a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he has approved a revised route for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline that will avoid the state’s Sandhills region, one of the most intricate wetland eco-systems in the United States.
“Impacts on aquifers … should be localized, and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup,” wrote Heineman, whose decision follows the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality conclusion that the project would have “minimal impact” on the environment. President Obama scrapped the pipeline’s original route last January due to fears that it would threaten the preserved and pristine Sandhills, which is home to wildlife such as mule deer, coyotes, red foxes, meadowlarks, wild turkeys and many fish species. For the same reasons, Heineman originally fought against the project, however, the Governor now agrees the state needs the $418 million economic boost the project is projected to create.
“Nebraska’s approval of a new Keystone XL pipeline route means there is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle, or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security.”
Construction of the 485-mile pipeline began last year following federal approval of the $2.3 billion southern leg of the project from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast. With the green light from Heineman now in place, the fate of the pipeline’s 1,179-mile, $5.3 billion northern leg from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, now lies solely in the hands of the State Department.
“We did receive a letter from the governor of Nebraska approving the route through the state of Nebraska. We will obviously take that letter and the Nebraska environmental report into consideration as we continue our federal review process,” State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at a briefing. “I think we said last year that we expected that this process was going to take us through the first quarter of 2013. So just to reiterate that, we don’t anticipate being able to conclude our own review before the end of the first quarter of this year.”
Environmental groups remain concerned that a Keystone XL spill could threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, which, according to the United States Geological Survey, yields approximately 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation and provides drinking water for 82% of the people who live within its boundaries. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported that TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline had more than a dozen spills in just its first year of operation despite claims by the company that it would “meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards.” “The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is dangerous and unnecessary, and the pipeline company, TransCanada, has a record of dirty spills, mistruths, and mangled cleanups,” Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director said in a statement. “That’s why Governor Heineman was against the pipeline before he was for it. The revised pipeline route still goes through the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source for millions of Heartland families. And Nebraska landowners, farmers and ranchers, and Americans who care about clean air and water will continue to fight it.”
Demonstrations to dissuade the State Department from approving the pipeline will be underway over the next several weeks. This Tuesday, Jane Kleeb, executive director of BOLD Nebraska, an organization against the pipeline, will be holding a protest outside the governor’s mansion in Lincoln.
“Heineman turned his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline,” Kleeb said. “The fight continues, even though Governor Heineman sided with a foreign corporation today and turned his back on our water and property rights.”
And on President’s Day weekend, tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the Forward on Climate Rally hosted by 350.org and the Sierra Club. At noon on Sunday, February 17, protestors will gather at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to show President Obama “how strong the movement has become” since 15,000 people surrounded the White House to show their opposition for Keystone XL just over one year ago.
“Ultimately, this will be the President’s call, that’s why on February 17, the Sierra Club will march in Washington D.C. at the Forward on Climate Rally,” Brune added.