The controversial Keystone oil pipeline now has Nebraska's approval to build. Gov. Dave Heineman has put his signature on a letter to the president, saying it avoids the environmentally-sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska.
Heineman said Tuesday, "It comes down to three issues - energy independence... economic impact... very, very critical is environmental impact."
Governor Dave Heineman says the 195 mile Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska passes the three point test he set.
"It's clear to me it has a positive economic impact in terms of jobs in Nebraska and America," he said.
The long-term economic impact is disputed, since most jobs are for construction.But the most vocal opposition was to the plan to build through the Sandhills.
Now that Heineman has approved, Bold Nebraska calls him a "flip-flopper" since he raised environmental concerns previously. Heineman defends his position. He said, "The letter I sent to President Obama earlier was when we were trying to make sure that he was going to pay attention to us and make sure it was going to go around the environmentally-sensitive areas of Nebraska." The governor says things have changed, following a special session of the legislature in November, 2011.
"We moved the route of the pipeline," he said.
Bold Nebraska, led by Jane Kleeb of Hastings has argued it would still put an environmentally sensitive region at risk, and could threaten the Ogallala Aquifer.
According to Kleeb, Heineman "approved the pipeline route that crosses the aquifer after he asked Obama to deny the route that crossed the Aquifer. Heineman also turns his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline. President Obama is our only hope now. It is clear given what Pres. Obama said about climate change yesterday that Heineman did not want to be on the same side as Obama. It is a shame when a politician these days can't cross party line even to stand up for our water and family farmers and ranchers."Heineman says those who criticize this route will criticize any pipeline. He said, "Bold Nebraska doesn't favor this pipeline no matter where you put it, so let's be honest about that." Heineman told Grand Island business leaders he spent nights and weekends reviewing a 2,020 page state environmental report. He said he's confident there will be minimal environmental impact, but he knows those along the route will disagree. He said, "They have legitimate concerns. I talked to several over the weekend on the telephone. I knew at the end of the day you're going to make some people happy and some people unhappy but you have to make a decision. We made our decision and the final decision rests with the President of the United States." The governor expects President Obama to make a final ruling in the first quarter of this new year.
In his letter to Pres. Obama, Heineman said construction would generate more than $400 million for the state and $16 million in use taxes. Annual local property taxes would be around $12 million in the first full year.
On environmental issues, Heineman said "impacts on aquifers from a release should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup."
The governor said the project avoids "fragile soils" and "shallow groundwater".
According to the governor, Keystone would have to develop an Emergency Response Plan.
"In the event of a spill, appropriate authorities would have timely access to product characteristics," Heineman wrote in his letter.
The pipeline has been a source of controversy, but Heineman said, "the concerns of Nebraskans have had a major influence on the pipeline route, the mitigation commitments, and this evaluation."
Prior to construction, Keystone would be required to test domestic and livestock wells within 300 feet of the route. There would also be an independent public employee to act as a liaison between the pipeline company and landowners. Keystone would also have to carry $200 million in third party liability insurance to cover costs for any incidents in Nebraska.
Others praised the Governor's approval, including Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska.
Brad Stevens of the group said, "We applaud Gov. Heineman for taking leadership on a project that will grow our economy in an environmentally sensitive way. The only remaining obstacle between this project and putting thousands of Americans back to work is a Presidential permit. We encourage President Obama to follow our governor's lead and approve this important project without delay."