By Nicolas Loris
Whether he likes it or not, President Obama’s logic-defying but unsurprising decision to deny TransCanada the permit to construct a 1,700-mile long pipeline to deliver up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries put the ball in Congress’s court—and some Members are seizing that opportunity.
On January 24, Representative Ted Poe (R–TX) and 11 co-sponsors, including Representative Dan Boren (D–OK) introduced the Keystone For a Secure Tomorrow Act (K-FAST) that would approve TransCanada’s permit submitted to the Department of State (DOS) on September 19, 2008. Instead of ignoring the three years of environmental review DOS conducted—like President Obama did—this legislation would accept the finding that the project poses no significant environmental risk and would bring much-needed jobs, economic growth, and energy to our country.
Poe’s bill would accept DOS’s environmental impact statement as sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. No further environmental review would be necessary, nor should it. For three years with multiple comment periods, DOS studied and addressed risks to soil, wetlands, water resources, vegetation, fish, wildlife, and endangered species. It concluded that construction of the pipeline would pose minimal environmental risk. Keystone XL also met 57 specific pipeline safety standard requirements created by DOS and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Furthermore, the pipeline would be equipped with 16,000 sensors connected to a satellite that would monitor pressure.
K-FAST would also satisfy Nebraskan residents and officials’ concerns with regard to the route of the pipeline by allowing Nebraska to find an alternative, acceptable route. Much of the concern of environmentalists and Nebraska residents has focused on the original route of the pipeline, particularly the area where the pipeline would cross the Ogallala Aquifer and the state’s Sand Hills region. Nebraska already has miles of natural gas, crude, refined products, and petrochemical pipelines crossing the state’s purportedly sensitive Ogallala Aquifer, specifically including pipelines in the Sand Hills region. In its exhaustive environmental review, DOS already studied the pipeline’s effects on soil and possible alternative routes to avoid the Sand Hills, along with countless other potential environmental risks.
Even so, Nebraskan officials and residents voiced their concerns, and TransCanada agreed to re-route the pipeline. The process of rerouting the pipeline is already well underway and can be accomplished without additional federal environmental review. Last December, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality released a detailed map of the Sand Hills region and conveyed the areas for TransCanada to avoid.
Keystone is an environmentally safe, jobs-creating project that has broad support. President Obama dropped the ball in rejecting TransCanada’s permit application. If Congress acts, the ball would end up back in the President’s court, but it would certainly send a strong bipartisan message if it returns to him.