BREAKING: State Department final Keystone XL report released

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – The U.S. State Department‘s final environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, released Friday afternoon, appears to mirror earlier conclusions that the pipeline wouldn’t contribute to greenhouse emissions.

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada recently began moving oil through the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline while it awaits a decision from the Obama administration on the its application for a permit to cross the national border and transport oil from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb.

The State Department report does not recommend whether to proceed with the Keystone XL pipeline or not, but seems to signal a green light could be coming.

The report reiterated last year’s draft report’s position that greenhouse emissions are not likely to increase due to the pipeline because it’s unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction of oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.

Now that the State Department’s environmental review of TransCanada’s application for a federal permit to build the pipeline is complete, a 90-day review by various federal agencies will commence to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, since it crosses a national border. The final decision is expected to be made by Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama.

The Canadian pipeline company first applied for permission to build the pipeline in late 2008, but it ran into a wall of opposition in Nebraska.

The Keystone XL pipeline would bisect Nebraska, with nearly 200 miles of pipe being buried in nine counties. Nebraska has been ground zero in the fight against the pipeline, as a grassroots group called Bold Nebraska against a foreign company having the power to take land from landowners and possible contamination of the massive Ogallala Aquifer.

They successfully lobbied Obama to reject TransCanada’s initial application in late 2011 and forced the company to reroute the pipeline around the ecologically fragile Sandhills. That’s the route reviewed in the latest State Department reports.

Nebraska pipeline fighters have taken part in protests from the governor’s mansion to Washington, D.C., even as most of the state’s Republican public officials have pushed for approval.

Previous State Department reports said limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported through other means, such as rail, which would probably be more expensive. Environmental groups have criticized the State Department for writing the reports with the help of contractors who’ve done business with TransCanada in the past.

The proposed pipeline has put Obama in a difficult position where he must decide whether to live up to his promises to combat climate change or appease labor unions that generally support the pipeline and jobs it would bring. Obama said last year the pipeline should only be built if it doesn’t increase carbon emissions.

Regardless of the outcome, a Nebraska lawsuit could still throw another obstacle in the path of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline. Landowners who oppose the pipeline sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of a law that changed the pipeline route approval process, giving the governor and state environmental regulators the authority to approve or deny the revised route through Nebraska, rather than the Public Service Commission. If the route review process is deemed unconstitutional, TransCanada would have to go back to square one with siting. A district judge has not yet made a ruling after a one-day trial in September.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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