Nebraska Gov. Heineman Announces New Support for Keystone XL

Published March 5, 2013

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, whose opposition to the original Keystone XL pipeline proposal emboldened federal opposition to the plan, announced he now supports the proposal. Heineman said Keystone’s revised route proposal within the Cornhusker State addresses his environmental concerns and will produce substantial economic benefits in his state.

Environment Department Approves
Heineman, a Republican, approved the new route after reviewing a 2,000-page report from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) that quelled any serious concerns about environmental threats.

In a Jan. 22 letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Heineman highlighted the state’s review of the newly approved route. Heineman noted several factors that make the proposed pipeline beneficial for the people of Nebraska while creating minimal environmental risk.

Heineman noted the revised route avoids the Sand Hills region, which Keystone XL opponents fought to protect. The revised route avoids many other areas deemed environmentally sensitive due to shallow aquifers or fragile soils. In those areas where the pipeline would be built, Keystone will impose strict environmental protections that will ensure minimal environmental impact even in the event of accidents or future problems.

“Construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, with the mitigation and commitments from Keystone, would have minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska,” Heineman wrote.

“Construction of the pipeline would result in $418.1 million in economic benefits,” Heineman added.

Heineman concluded the letter by repeating that he supports the revised pipeline route and made his “request that Nebraska’s evaluation be included in the Department of State’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.”

Stringent Environmental Review
“Much of the discussion about the Keystone XL Pipeline has centered on the environmental impact,” said Jim Vokal, executive director at the Platte Institute for Economic Research, a Nebraska-based educational organization. 

“The process to protect our Nebraska ecosystems has included a special session, a bipartisan compromise, and the reroute in question that have all addressed these concerns,” Vokal reported.

During a Special Session in 2011, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 4, which authorized the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) to review the proposed pipeline.

On August 31, 2011, Gov. Heineman sent a letter to the White House urging the president to deny the Keystone permit because the original route would run directly over the Ogallala Aquifer. In January 2012, Obama denied TransCanada a permit to build the pipeline and NDEQ halted active review of the proposal.

In April 2012 the Nebraska legislature passed LB 1161, which allowed the NDEQ to continue evaluating pipeline routes. The newly approved route still crosses part of the Ogallala Aquifer, but NDEQ and Heineman report upgraded environmental safeguards minimize any potential threat.

“The Keystone XL pipeline entails minimal risk to the environment,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “Thousands of miles of pipelines already crisscross the United States, with many of those pipelines existing in Nebraska. The existing pipelines cause very little environmental damage, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be built with the most modern environmental protection technologies yet.”

“At this point, any stated concerns about environmental threats are based on a lack of scientific information or ulterior motives,” Lehr added.

Pipeline’s Economic Benefits
The $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude oil, at the capacity of 830,000 barrels a day, to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries. According to TransCanada, the pipeline would dramatically reduce U.S. dependence on oil from hostile nations and overseas sources.

The pipeline is expected to provide substantial economic benefits to the state of Nebraska. Analysts expect construction would create thousands of jobs bring over $400 million in economic investment into the state. Expected tax revenues of more than $10 million per year would also help balance the state’s budget.

“It is important not to let the controversy overshadow the positive economic effects of the pipeline to the state of Nebraska,” Vokal explained.

The White House will have the ultimate say on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. President Obama will likely rule on the pipeline by April 2013.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.