Pipeline Decision Rouses Both Sides
For Now, Obama Rejects Keystone XL
BY SAMAR FAY COURIER EDITOR
Published: Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline got a thumbs down from President Barack Obama last Wednesday. He said the “rushed and arbitrary deadline” of Feb. 21 imposed by congressional Republicans prevented a full environmental assessment of the pipeline’s impact. He did not rule out eventual approval of the pipeline, which is meant to carry crude oil from tar sands in Alberta across five states to refineries in Texas. It would cross Valley County and four other counties in Montana, and carry oil from this region to the refineries.
Obama has been between a rock and a hard place with the Keystone XL. It crosses the sensitive Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and environmentalists are afraid of leaks and pollution. They also decry the way tar sands oil is mined in northern forests, saying the dirty process produces lots of greenhouse gases. Most unions and business interests are in favor of the jobs and the oil supply from a friendly country. Whichever way the president voted, he would alienate a large chunk of supporters. He tried to put off the problem until after the 2012 election, but Congress forced a deadline on his decision.
Reaction was swift both locally and nationally. At a special planning meeting held Monday, the Glasgow School Board, which is struggling with expensive improvements needed to aging facilities, had to face the postponement of hoped-for tax revenues. The county commissioners would like to count extra change in the general fund too. The pipeline might generate as much as $7.5 million in taxes for Montana.
Montana’s congressional delegation have all supported the pipeline, as has Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. Sen. Jon Tester said he was disappointed in the decision. Sen. Max Baucus says he doesn't agree with the rejection.
"I believe very strongly this is so important in Montana hundreds and thousands of jobs for Montana. It's gonna help relieve some of the pressure in the Bakken development production so there's a way for that production that oil to get to refineries and further south. It's gonna help make America much more energy independent," he told a Chamber group in Helena.
Republicans in Montana have been pleased to use the Keystone as a stick to beat their opponents with. Rep. Denny Rehberg called it “shameful” and used it as a weapon in his battle to take Sen. Jon Tester’s seat, saying it illustrates Tester’s “strong ties to anti-job environmental obstructionists and his out-of-touch support for liberal President Barack Obama’s re-election.”
Montana GOP Chairman Will Deschamps called the decision “sacrificing 20,000 American jobs for purely political motives.” The number of jobs that would be created by the pipeline is under dispute, with some analysts saying it would be 6,000 or 7,000, not 20,000.
Republican Congressional candidate Steve Daines called on his opponents to urge the president to reverse his decision, in the interest of creating jobs.
“This project will create thousands of high paying jobs at a time when America and Montana need them the most,” said Daines. “The question is do the candidates in this race stand with President Obama or with the people of Montana.”
Members of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group welcomed the president’s decision, saying it “reflects the need for an additional supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement that would study many of the remaining unanswered questions about the Keystone XL pipeline.”
In a statement, the group said they are still waiting for an emergency response plan, a study of the corrosiveness of tar sands oil pipelines in light of the 14 spills on the Keystone I pipeline, which began operations in June 2010, and assurance that pipeline thickness will be the same in rural areas along the pipeline as in highly populated areas.
Montana Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, echoed these concerns and added another. He said a coalition of Tribal Historic Preservation Offices gathered recently, opposing the Keystone pipeline project because of a few historic sites along the Keystone corridor.
The Montana Farmers Union issued a statement supporting a delay in the pipeline: “MFU members believe it is necessary to take appropriate safety precautions to protect Montanans, its farms, ranches, land, air and water from potential adverse impacts of this pipeline. Specifically, MFU believes that consistent thickness and quality of steel should be required for the entire pipeline, not just ‘high consequence’ or urban areas.”
The Center for Rural Affairs, a private nonprofit concerned with the quality of life in rural communities, applauded the president’s “common sense decision.”
“The proposed pipeline route could have potentially disastrous consequences on both the fragile ecosystem of the Nebraska Sandhills and climate change,” the group said in a press statement.
Rehberg urged President Obama to “embrace” the Keystone XL in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address and said he sponsored legislation to bypass the president if he doesn’t, by transferring authority for approving or denying the permit from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
In his address, Obama spoke about the responsible development of natural gas, disclosure of the chemicals that oil drillers use in fracking and the development of clean energy sources, but not the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the Republican response to the speech, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels attacked Obama for refusing to allow the Keystone XL pipeline. He said, “Extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy.”
TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline, plans to resubmit their application. In a statement, the company said it is working with Nebraska to determine another route that avoids the Sandhills. They expect to have the new route planned by September or October.
"This outcome is one of the scenarios we anticipated. While we are disappointed, TransCanada remains fully committed to the construction of Keystone XL. Plans are already underway on a number of fronts to largely maintain the construction schedule of the project," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "We will re-apply for a Presidential Permit and expect a new application would be processed in an expedited manner to allow for an in-service date of late 2014."
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