Keystone opponents ready for legal challenge

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December 6th, 2012

Omaha, NE – After hours of public testimony on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline Tuesday night, opponents are gearing up for a challenge if the U.S. State Department approves the project.

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Opponents of the Keystone pipeline have been skeptical of the State Department’s role in the project since it first reviewed TransCanada’s plans to build it last year. Environmental groups concerned about the pipeline’s route through Nebraska, which crossed the Ogallala Aquifer on its way from Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, accused the State Department of a “cozy relationship” with TransCanada.

Opponents of the Keystone pipeline rallied outside the Pershing Center in Lincoln in September last year. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

Now that TransCanada has submitted plans for a revised route, those groups are questioning Nebraska’s review process and renewing calls for the State Department to back off. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Ken Winston who heads the Nebraska Sierra Club, was asked about reports that the State Department’s review ready to go – before the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality held its final public hearing Tuesday. Winston said if that’s the case, the process is a sham. “The review process in the state of Nebraska is inadequate and if they’re not even taking into consideration the inadequate process in the state of Nebraska, which really needs to be conducted in more depth, then that would indicate that the State Department’s process is completely invalid,” Winston said.

The State Department responded to inquires on the reports with a statement, saying the department will have a draft review ready for public comment “in the near future.” In the statement, a spokesperson said the department “continues to conducts its review…in a rigorous, transparent and efficient manner, using existing analysis as appropriate.”

Supporters of the Keystone pipeline at the same protest outside Lincoln’s Pershing Center. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

But another issue to be hashed out is who will be at the helm of the State Department when it makes any final review. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to leave the post soon, and the woman who could replace her, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, was reported last week to be financially invested in TransCanada.

Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, said Rice would have to recuse herself from the process. But she said President Obama should go a step further and remove the State Department’s involvement. “Because Susan Rice has so much money invested into TransCanada and in tar sands, we don’t think even if she recuses herself, that that is sufficient,” Kleeb said. “Obviously the staff below her still know that she has those holdings, and whether it’s conscious or not… it’s just the reality of work, right? You do what your boss kind of tells you to do… We want a conflict-interest free decision, and we can’t have that if Susan Rice would be making that decision.”

The calls are preemptive. Rice has not been nominated to the office, but Kleeb warned if Rice is nominated and not recused, the State Department would be mired in lawsuits from pipeline opponents.

No matter who’s in charge, if the State Department approves the Keystone pipeline, environmental groups are vowing to take the issue to the courts. In the call, environmental attorneys said approval would trigger eminent domain rights on behalf of TransCanada, and the company would face numerous lawsuits from landowners up and down the pipeline corridor.

But before any of that happens, the pipeline’s new route first needs to get passed Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. Heineman has supported the pipeline, but he joined opposition last year calling for it to be re-routed to avoid the Ogallala Aquifer. Heineman’s office said he will comment on TransCanada’s revised route only once the NDEQ submits its final review. That review process is also under legal challenge, as environmental lawyers reminded reporters on the call.

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