News Column

Pipeline OK Reopens Stream of Debate

Jan 23, 2013

By Aamer Madhani

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman notified President Obama on Tuesday that he has approved the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline to traverse his state, a crucial step toward reviving the project one year after it was delayed by the Obama administration.

The Republican governor wrote in a letter to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he has approved a revised route for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, which his office said would avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region but will cut through the High Plains Aquifer.

The move puts the onus back on the Obama administration -- the project needs approval from the State Department -- to decide the fate of the 1,700-mile pipeline that has pitted Republican lawmakers against environmentalists.

Heineman said the Nebraska segment of the project would result in a $418 million positive impact on the state's economy.

"Impacts on aquifers should be localized, and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup," Heineman wrote. Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality concluded the project would have "minimal impact" on the environment.

In addition to concerns about what effect a potential leak would have on aquifers, environmental groups have argued that the project, which develops carbon-heavy oil from the tar sands of northwest Canada, would lead to toxic chemicals being released into the air when it is refined.

Last January, Obama blocked a quick approval of the Keystone pipeline, triggering outrage from Republicans and objections from the business community.

At the time, Obama said the House GOP forced his decision by including a provision in the legislation in December 2011 for a short-term extension to the payroll tax cut that required him to issue a permit to allow the pipeline to be built or explain why it was not in the national interest by Feb. 21, 2012.

After Heineman's announcement, House Speaker John Boehner called on Obama to quickly approve the project.

"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," Boehner said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the State Department was still reviewing the issue. "I don't want to get ahead of that process," Carney said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the review would most likely not be completed before the end of March.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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