Swift reaction to President’s pipeline decision

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January 18th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline hailed President Obama’s decision today to reject the project. But critics say the president’s decision was political.

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President Obama rejected TransCanada's proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline, saying there was not enough time for a thorough review. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

In his statement accepting the State Department’s recommendation, President Barack Obama called the deadline for a decision imposed by Congressional Republicans “rushed and arbitrary.” In December, House and Senate Republicans gave the President 60 days to make a decision on the pipeline, saying it would bring thousands of much-needed jobs and should be approved quickly. But the President said that wasn’t enough time to make a “full assessment of the pipeline’s impact.”

Opponents and supporters of the pipeline proposal reacted strongly. Anti-pipeline activist Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska applauded the decision.

“Nebraskans are very proud of President Barack Obama’s decision for denying the Keystone XL pipeline,” Kleeb said. “I think it was a bold decision; it was the right decision; and it’s something that our family farmers and ranchers are going to be celebrating for generations to come.”

On the other hand, Sen. Mike Johanns, who opposed the earlier proposed route through the Sandhills but supports the pipeline, criticized the president.

Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns said the President's decision "reeks of political gamesmanship." (Photo courtesy Senator's office)

“The president’s decision today is extremely disappointing,” Johanns said. “This has been a pipeline process that’s been going on now for about three years. This process was ready to come to a conclusion. There’s only one piece of it that’s ever been in dispute, and that’s the piece that went through the Sandhills, or was proposed to be. That now has changed; the company has agreed to relocate the pipeline, so there isn’t any reason why a permit can’t be granted for the rest of the pipeline to start being built.”

Reacting to public outcry, pipeline company TransCanada agreed last November to propose a route that avoided the Sandhills. Nebraska officials were expected to approve or disapprove that alternative route this summer or fall. In a conference call explaining the State Department’s recommendation to reject the application, Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones cited the situation in Nebraska.

“It’s my understanding that the applicant has just recently suggested some corridors where alternate routes may be possible,” Jones said. “But there has not been much detail work done, which would require a lot of analysis based on the topography, and the endangered species and the relative water issues. So, much of that information would take quite a while to get. It would take beyond the 60 day timeline.”

Kleeb, who opposed both the original route and the pipeline as a whole, said the state’s Department of Environmental Quality should stop any work on an alternative route.

“I think the DEQ should not spend one more dime of taxpayer money,” Kleeb said. “I think the pipeline permit has been denied. And if TransCanada is going to try to spin our state government saying otherwise, we need to make sure that they get a clear memo from the State Department saying that this process is over.”

But the State Department said its decision does not preclude any subsequent permit application. TransCanada said it will reapply and will continue to work with DEQ on an alternative route. And Johanns said Congress might bypass the president.

“Now the question is whether he’s put this back to square one, or whether with a legislative initiative of some kind, whether this could be pulled off of where it’s at now,” Johanns said. “There’s just no answer to that today.”

Governor Dave Heineman responded to the President’s decision in a statement late Wednesday. The Governor said he is “very disappointed” with Obama’s decision, saying it will leave “thousands of Americans unnecessarily unemployed.” Heineman said the President should have issued a conditional approval, pending a final route approved by the state of Nebraska.

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