The fate of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline now rests with the U.S. State Department after Nebraska's governor gave his blessing to a new, less environmentally damaging route through his state.
Dave Heineman sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday confirming he would allow the oil pipeline to go through Nebraska along a revised path that skirts ecologically sensitive areas.
Because Keystone XL would cross an international border, it requires approval from the U.S. State Department and Obama.
"We did receive a letter from the governor of Nebraska approving the route through the state of Nebraska. We will obviously take that letter and the Nebraska environmental report into consideration as we continue our federal review process," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
It was previously expected that a decision would be announced in the first quarter of 2013, but Nuland said it's looking like it will take longer than that.
Calgary-based TransCanada is seeking approval for a $5.3-billion pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta's oilsands and U.S. shale formations to Steele City, Neb.
That pipeline would link up with another $2.3-billion conduit line to Texas refineries, which is 40 per cent complete. That segment does not require a federal permit.
The two projects were originally part of one big pipeline proposal that the Obama administration rejected last year. TransCanada opted to cut it up into two projects while the Nebraska issues were sorted out.
The southern leg should be in service later this year, while TransCanada expects the northern portion to start up in late 2014 or early 2015, despite the State Department delay.
"I'm still optimistic that this thing can be done in a relatively short period of time. All of the work's been done," TransCanada CEO Russ Girling told reporters in his downtown Calgary office.
With the Nebraska issues resolved, Girling said "I think we can expeditiously move our way through the rest of the process."
Construction can begin within weeks of a State Department approval, he said.
About 9,000 people are eager to start working on the pipeline, he added.
"These people want these jobs and our job is to try to get this done as quickly as we can."
Some critics of Keystone see it as an environmental threat and symbolic of a wrong-headed energy policy, both because of potential oil spills and because of the amount of carbon released by the oilsands extraction process.
The project has faced some of its strongest resistance in Nebraska from a coalition of landowners and environmental groups who say it would contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, a massive groundwater supply.
The revised route still crosses part of the aquifer, though Nebraska's environmental watchdog says any spills would be localized and TransCanada would be responsible for any cleanup.
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality says the new route avoids an area of fragile grass-covered sand dunes known as the Sand Hills and a shallow groundwater area.
Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group Bold Nebraska, says Heineman's decision is "one of the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska history."
"He approved the pipeline route that crosses the aquifer after he asked President Obama to deny the route that crossed the aquifer," she said.
"Heineman turned his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline. It is a shame when a politician these days can't cross party lines even to stand up for our water and family farmers and ranchers."
Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council said while Heineman's decision was "disappointing," there was still hope the State Department will reject it.
"The president signalled that his administration would refocus on climate during his inaugural speech" on Monday, said Swift.
"He can do that by saying no to this ill-advised tarsands pipeline."
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, a staunch supporter of Keystone XL, said she was pleased with Heineman's decision, while acknowledging it's not Alberta's place to decide U.S. domestic matters.
"Continued and new market access for Alberta's globally important crude resources is the single-most critical issue facing our province," said Redford, whose government has seen resource revenues dramatically fall as a result of discounted Alberta crude.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver also welcomed the decision.
"Our desire is to work with the Obama administration in achieving final approval," he said.
"We believe Keystone XL will enhance the future economic prosperity and security of both Canada and the United States."
Since being tapped by the Obama administration as Hillary Clinton's replacement as secretary of state, Senator John Kerry has provided no clues about Keystone XL's prospects.
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In September, the Dalai Lama was one of nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/07/nobel-peace-prize-winners_n_952248.html" target="_hplink">sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama</a> urging him "to say 'no' to the plan proposed by the Canadian-based company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, and to turn [his] attention back to supporting renewable sources of energy and clean transportation solutions."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was among<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/28/nobel-prize-winners-oil-sands_n_985171.html" target="_hplink"> a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates</a> who signed letters to both U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging the men to stop the Keystone pipeline.
Gore has said it is essential to stop the Keystone pipeline because the tar sands oil it would carry is "the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-gore/the-dirtiest-fuel-on-the-_b_944186.html" target="_hplink">dirtiest source of fuel on the planet</a>."
Actor and environmentalist <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000602/" target="_hplink">Robert Redford</a> recently added his name to the list of prominent individuals who are calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/robert-redford-keystone-xl_n_1019789.html" target="_hplink">In a video for <em>The New York Times</em>, produced with the Natural Resources Defense Council</a>, Redford described the negative aspects of the proposed tar sands pipeline and said, "By deepening our reliance on oil, the pipeline would be a job killer." Redford has previously been vocal about calling for alternatives to oil. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-redford/keystone-xl-pipeline_b_978835.html" target="_hplink">Writing last month for HuffPost</a>, he said, "Let's build the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces. Let's develop wind, solar and other cleaner, safer, more sustainable sources of power and fuel. Let's invest in high-speed rail and smart communities that give us better transportation options."
Actor <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0749263/" target="_hplink">Mark Ruffalo</a>, famous for films like "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0842926/" target="_hplink">The Kids Are All Right</a>" and "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443706/" target="_hplink">Zodiac</a>," is also an outspoken activist and opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Ruffalo <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/mark-ruffalo-tar-sands_n_924245.html" target="_hplink">said in a video</a> for the <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/" target="_hplink">Tar Sands Action</a> group, "I've seen the kind of damage that out-of-control energy development can do to water and to communities near my own home, where fracking for natural gas is causing widespread pollution ... All these problems are connected -- we need to get off fossil fuels." In the past, Ruffalo has also expressed his ire for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction, or fracking. He told The Huffington Post, "The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/mark-ruffalo-fights-frack_n_810461.html" target="_hplink">world is already leaving us behind</a>. We're being left behind. America. Because the gas and oil industry has a strangle hold on us. And our politicians."
Environmentalist and author <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-mckibben/" target="_hplink">Bill McKibben</a> has expressed strong disapproval for the planned Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, he was <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/press/releases/aug20/" target="_hplink">one of the first</a> of over 1,200 who were arrested at the Tar Sands Action sit-in at the White House in August. Referring to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/23/keystone-xl-frustrated-environmental-activists-obama_n_933648.html" target="_hplink">his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline</a>, McKibben told HuffPost, "The people who've carried this fight for three years are indigenous people on both sides of the border who have a huge stake in it because it's on their land, and farmers and ranchers from places like Nebraska," he said. He added, "It wasn't until I sat down and read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen" target="_hplink">Jim Hansen</a>'s analysis of how much carbon was in those things that I understood that this was not just a national issue, it's a global issue of the first order."
<a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000506/" target="_hplink">Julia Louis-Dreyfus</a>, known for her role as Elaine on the popular sitcom "Seinfeld," has released a video urging President Obama to reject the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Dreyfus recalls when Obama said "Let us be the generation that ends the tyranny of oil." But she says, "Big Oil is still pretty much running the show." She claims that by rejecting the pipeline, Obama has a chance to "make good on [his] word." <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/video-release-julia-louis-dreyfus-challenges-pres-obama-stop-keystone-xl/" target="_hplink">Louis-Dreyfus asks Obama</a>, "Denying the permit for a brutally stupid, money-grab like the Keystone XL pipeline is a no-brainer, right Mr President?"
Actress <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000435/" target="_hplink">Daryl Hannah</a> has also lent her voice to the movement against the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/keystone-pipeline" target="_hplink">Keystone XL pipeline</a>. In August, Hannah was one of the over 1,200 people to be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/30/daryl-hannah-arrested-keystone-protest_n_942072.html" target="_hplink">arrested as an act of civil disobedience</a> in front of the White House. Shouting "no to the Keystone pipeline" as she was handcuffed, Hannah made it clear she opposed the proposed Canada to Texas pipeline.
Maude Barlow, a Canadian author and activist and chairperson of <a href="http://www.canadians.org/" target="_hplink">The Council of Canadians</a>, was arrested in September at a Keystone pipeline and oil sands protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/09/26/ottawa-oil-sands-pipeline-protest_n_981052.html" target="_hplink">She was one of over 100 protesters</a> of the demonstration's estimated 400 to be arrested. Writing for HuffPost Canada about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/maude-barlow/maude-barlow-arrested_b_982487.html" target="_hplink">her first experience being arrested</a>, Barlow blogged, "I did it because I fear we are killing the planet and I can no longer be content to only write and speak about it. Today my feet spoke for me as I crossed that barricade and took away one more fear in my life." She also said, "By investing trillions of dollars into these pipelines, governments and the energy industry are ensuring the continued rapid acceleration of tar sands development, instead of supporting a process to move to an alternative and sustainable energy system."
<a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001718/" target="_hplink">Kyra Sedgwick</a>, star of the television crime drama "The Closer," has voiced her opposition to the pipeline. In a video for the <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Defense Council</a>, Sedgwick said "Just like the BP oil spill, one glitch in the tar sands pipeline could destroy our clean water sources, possibly forever."
Joining several other prominent actors, David Strathairn appeared in a video urging President Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline. He calls on his fellow Americans to join the November 6 <a href="http://www.tarsandsaction.org/" target="_hplink">Tar Sands Action</a> in Washington, D.C. <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000657/" target="_hplink">Strathairn</a>, who is known for his portrayal of journalist Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck," said, "Obama ran for office speaking of the dangers of our fossil fuel addiction, promising to fight climate change and fully embrace a clean energy future. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/keystone-pipeline" target="_hplink">Keystone XL tar sands pipeline</a> is a dangerous step away from that commitment."
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