State Department delays pipeline decision

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November 10th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The U.S. State Department will delay its decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to provide time for an alternative route to be studied.

Opponents of the Keystone Pipeline have held several protests in Nebraska, and outside the White House. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the State Department said public concern over the pipeline, particularly in Nebraska, has prompted the department to delay its decision until alternative routes can be examined. The pipeline is currently proposed to cross the ecologically fragile Nebraska Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of water for Nebraska and surrounding states.

“The concern about the proposed route’s impact on the Sand Hills of Nebraska has increased significantly over time,” the statement said.

TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, will be required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on an alternative route, a process which will likely take several months, pushing the decision on whether to approve or deny the pipeline permit beyond the 2012 elections into 2013.

President Barack Obama has come under heavy pressure from environmental activists, who’ve framed the pipeline issue as a test of his commitment to environmental concerns, and the development of alternative energy. But the President has also come under pressure from supporters of the pipeline, who say the project will create thousands of jobs, and help ease U.S. reliance on oil supplies from the Middle East.

In a statement from the White House Press Office, President Obama said he supports the State Department’s decision. “Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood.”

Obama added, “The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

Nebraska has become ground zero in the pipeline debate. Lawmakers are currently in the middle of a special session to debate ways the state could force a re-route of the project. Governor Dave Heineman scheduled a 3pm press conference to discuss the decision.

Opponents of the pipeline responded quickly to the news. A statement from a lead organizer of the opposition, Bold Nebraska, included responses from several Nebraskans who have actively opposed the pipeline. Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb said Obama is making the right decision “for our land and water,” and urged the Nebraska Legislature to continue its work during the special session to put oil pipeline regulations in place.

Randy Thompson, a Sandhills resident, whose land would be traversed by the pipeline’s current proposed route, said “It’s good to see that the President is listening to the concerns of Nebraskans… Our future generations will thank the President and hopefully will thank our state senators if they do the job they were elected to do for citizens not big corporations.”

U.S. Senator Mike Johanns, who has also been critical of the pipeline route, applauded the State Department’s decision in a statement. “If this is a sincere effort to identify a more appropriate route through Nebraska, I applaud it. The State Department should make clear right now the current proposed route is off the table because it’s the wrong route.”

Johanns also noted the timing of the announcement is “suspiciously political” and questioned why the review would require 18 months, pushing a decision past the 2012 election. “The State Department needs to provide a clear explanation as to why it would take an additional year and a half to analyze alternative routes, and to eliminate the current proposed route.”

U.S. Senator Ben Nelson also responded Thursday, saying the State Department has listened to the concerns of Nebraskans. But he lobbed responsibility for the next step back to Nebraska. He said the pipeline is fundamentally a “states’ rights issue.” And he said the State Department’s decision allows Nebraska to “exercise its authority and take action on behalf of Nebraskans, rather than waiting until it’s too late.”

Nelson has criticized Gov. Dave Heineman in the past for inaction on the pipeline issue. The Nebraska Legislature is currently in special session, which Heineman called, to debate legislation that could authorize the state to approve/disapprove oil pipeline routes.

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