The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality released a 2,000-page final evaluation Friday of the proposed route for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline through the state.
An executive summary did not include a recommendation from DEQ Director Mike Linder on whether the most recent path laid out for the Nebraska portion of the $7 billion project, meant to skirt the Nebraska Sandhills, should be approved by Gov. Dave Heineman.
Linder said the absence of a thumbs up or thumbs down to the governor should not come as a surprise. That was not the assignment the Legislature handed him.
His job, he said, was to gather the facts and public feedback and present that to Heineman.
“So that’s what we did, and we didn’t envision including a recommendation. The decision is his.”
Linder said siting is not within his authority.
“We’ve pointed out a number of times that we don’t pick the route. We react to the route that’s presented.”
The report did include the DEQ perspective on the impact of an oil spill in an area where soil is porous and the Ogallala Aquifer is close to the surface.
“Impacts on aquifers from a release should be localized, and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup,” it said.
The governor’s office released a prepared statement indicating that Heineman has up to 30 days to review the DEQ document before offering his view of the route to the U.S. State Department, which is handling the national review of the project.
“I appreciate the feedback that we have received from citizens and the hard work of the Department of Environmental Quality in addressing this issue in a thoughtful and deliberate manner,” Heineman said in the statement.
He directed all questions to Linder.
Linder said a section of the executive summary that addressed the expected $418.1 million economic benefits of the project, including supporting 4,560 new or existing jobs, was appropriate. That’s standard procedure under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Legislature contemplated us doing a NEPA or NEPA-like review. And a requirement of NEPA is to do an evaluation, yes, of environmental, for sure, but also economic, social and other impacts,” he said.
TransCanada’s 1,700-mile connection between the oil sands of Alberta and refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast has been the focus of analysis, praise and condemnation for more than four years.
Construction is under way on the southern leg between Cushing, Okla., and the Gulf Coast, but President Barack Obama has yet to issue the federal permit the company needs for the portion that crosses the border between the United States and Canada.
The latest information on the State Department website indicates approval or denial is likely in the first quarter of this year.
Staunch pipeline critic Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska said DEQ’s presumption about the limited impact of an oil spill “is absolutely the most ridiculous statement that a government agency could make about this pipeline project.”
The truth is that no one knows, Kleeb said.
“Where they get that information and the technical aspects of how they would clean it up I would love to see.”
Kleeb said any attention to economic benefits also should take into account economic impacts on landowners. For example, landowners aren’t exempt from liability for a spill.
The DEQ report was praised by Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance and Congressman Lee Terry of Omaha, who has pushed hard for a presidential permit.
“We applaud DEQ for working in a very public, transparent manner to incorporate the concerns of Nebraskans,” said Brad Stevens, state director of Americans for Prosperity.
TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens said the company would wait until next week to make any detailed remarks.
“We have made significant strides to work with Nebraskans to identify the safest route possible for the pipeline project,” he said, “and we look forward to hearing from Gov. Heineman regarding the report.”
Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said the report “spent a lot of time looking at things that are irrelevant and generating verbiage to cover their tracks.”
DEQ says TransCanada “has made commitments,” Winston said. “How are they going to make them live up to these commitments?”
Kleeb said last week’s refusal by a Lancaster County district judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by pipeline opponents should be on Heineman’s mind.
The suit challenges the constitutionality of the 2012 state law that, among other things, assigned the pipeline review to DEQ rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
“I think there will be a lot of egg on the governor’s face,” Kleeb said, “if he approves this route, and then, in three months, a judge rules the whole process unconstitutional.”