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Nebraska governor approves Keystone XL pipeline route

The sand hills that stretch across north-central Nebraska are ecologically vulnerable. Keystone XL opponents say the pipeline could damage the hills. (Creative Commons)
The sand hills that stretch across north-central Nebraska are ecologically vulnerable. Keystone XL opponents say the pipeline could damage the hills. (Creative Commons)

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a final path for the Keystone XL oil pipeline through the state Tuesday. That puts the issue back before the federal government one year after the State Department denied developer TransCanada’s request for a permit that would allow its pipeline to cross the border and connect with the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Some Midwest farmers and ranchers say they are concerned about the potential for oil spills in some of the most remote areas of the prairie, near ecologically fragile ground.  The Keystone XL is also a lightning rod among environmental groups like the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation who have criticized the pipeline’s path through Nebraska’s Sandhills region and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Pipeline proponents, though, maintain it will safely carry oil and also bring a much-needed economic boost to rural areas.

After being denied by the State Department, TransCanada redesigned the route through Nebraska. A state law passed in late 2011 required that the new route be reviewed by the state and approved by the governor.

The pipeline route now approved by Heineman skirts the edges of the Sandhills and travels over a portion of the High Plains Aquifer. But it avoids the highly erodible hills and groundwater-saturated meadows that were part of the previous route and of concern to environmental groups.

In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Heineman indicated the re-route around sensitive environmental areas, and also estimated $418.1 million in economic benefits to Nebraska if the pipeline is built.

Following Obama’s comment in his second inaugural address that failing to address climate change “would betray our children and future generations,” opponents of the pipeline are eager to see the White House refuse the pipeline.

“You cannot say the words the President did in his inaugural address and then turn around and approve the pipeline,” said Jane Kleeb of anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska. “That is crystal clear, as clear as the Ogallala Aquifer is without this risky export tar sands pipeline.”

At this point, though, it’s unclear where the president will come out on the pipeline. While TransCanada still requires a permit for the northern stretch of the pipeline to cross the border with Canada, Obama already approved construction of the southern portion of the pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Texas coast.