20 Feb 2014 More

Judge Throws Wrench into Keystone Pipeline Route

posted by Brown Books @ 09:39 0 Comments

Image of Keystone Pipeline protests
Nebraska Judge Stephanie Stacy has thrown out the proposed Keystone Pipeline route through her state, this in a ruling Wednesday from a court in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The ruling may mean that President Obama can now put the issue on the back burner until after the 2014 midterm elections.

Judge Stacy’s ruling invalidates legislation put forward by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman that would have approved the new route through the state.  The move by the governor was an effort to expedite a time-consuming decision by the state’s public service commission.

Now, the TransCanada Corp., builders of the controversial pipeline that would bring Canadian oil all the way to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, will have to seek approval by the commission.  Bypassing the commission would have saved the company as much as seven months, the estimated length of time that it takes for commission approval.  Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has already appealed the judge’s ruling.

“This gives the US State Department and Obama an out,” says University of Calgary business professor Bob Schulz. “Why would they decide if they don’t have to decide? I think he’s going to push it back another year.”

Midterm elections on the horizon

In a year in which President Obama has seen his approval ratings dropping and important midterm elections in both the House and the Senate, the last thing he wanted to have on his plate was the controversial Keystone Pipeline issue.  While green activists are adamantly opposed to the pipeline, afraid it will pose a risk to the environment, proponents of Keystone point to this year’s record-setting winter cold, the rise in demand for natural gas and the a lack of infrastructure that has caused the price to double in just a few short months.

Proponents of the pipeline argue that while of course there is always some risk involved, it is but nominal.  Millions of barrels of North American oil could be pumping through the pipeline every day, helping America to become less dependent on oil from places like Venezuela and the Middle East.

Delaying the vote also allows President Obama and his fellow Democrats to circumvent the topic in what is gearing up to be a heated election year.  Public officials running for reelection may very well come under fire if they were to show opposition to the project, especially in states where it could have a real economic impact.

Environmental groups are not only worried about any possible leakage from the pipeline and what that might do to the environment, they are also concerned with its affect on climate change.  But those who are in favor of the pipeline argue that it will bring much needed jobs to the US and economic expansion.  The pipeline, if completed, would stretch all the way from the oil-rich provinces of Western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States.

It’s a State Department issue as well

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the State Department has become involved.  The department is in the process of deciding whether or not the project is in the best national interest.  But many say the federal government is just dragging its feet.  The State Department began deliberations on the proposed route back in 2011 and still no decision has been handed down.  President Obama has made it clear, no matter what the State Department decides, he will have the final say.

In fact, this latest ruling by a Nebraska court is the second time the pipeline route has been delayed.  The proposed path crosses dangerously close to an aquifer, some say, and could pose a threat to the drinking water.  Environmentalists point to recent events in Charlestown, West Virginia to demonstrate how important it is to safeguard the water supply.

President Obama personally rejected the pipeline’s original route back in January 2012.  But it was not just the president who was concerned.  Citizens of Nebraska and even the governor himself expressed reservations over the original route.  An alternative route was then proposed, and that second route is what is now under review by the State Department.

Officials in Canada, eager to get their oil moving, have lobbied President Obama directly.  This includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.  Harper has been critical of the president and the State Department whom he believes are stalling for time.

In fact, the issue was even brought up at the North American Summit in Toluca, Mexico on Wednesday.  President Obama says that he will not speed up the process.  “Keystone will proceed along the path that’s already been set forth,” says Obama. “I know it’s been extensive and at times, I’m sure, Stephen feels, a little too laborious.”

Rigorous commission review inevitable

Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council Anthony Swift says that the review by the commission will most likely be very rigorous, more so than the path set forth by the governor.  “I wouldn’t think it’s a sure bet by any means that the PSC will land on the same route,” says Swift.
“Because the state of Nebraska made a thorough review of the alternative route, we would expect the Nebraska Public Service Commission to make the same decision as the governor in approving the new route and to do so in a timely manner,” says Senator John Hoeven, of North Dakota.
In her ruling, Judge Stacy said that the new legislation concerning the pipeline was “unconstitutional and void.”
“Because the governor’s actions of Jan. 22, 2013, in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline route were predicated on an unconstitutional statute, the court also finds the governor’s actions in that regard must be declared null and void,” said Judge Stacy.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission now has seven months in which to either reject or approve the new projected path for the pipeline.
The case is Thompson v. Heineman, CI 12-2060, Lancaster County, Nebraska, District Court (Lincoln)

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