A day after President Barack Obama highlighted climate change in his inauguration speech, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, approved the new route through the state for the contested Keystone XL pipeline wending its way through the U.S. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
A decision on the 1,711-mile-long, $7 billion project was originally postponed until after the U.S. Presidential election partly because of tribal and environmentalists’ objections to the passage of the pipeline through the Sand Hills, an ecologically sensitive area.
The new route skirts the Sand Hills, but those opposing the pipeline, which already goes through Illinois and Oklahoma, have not changed their stance because it still runs through the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water for irrigation and other uses to the Great Plains states, according to Reuters.
Heineman’s move on January 22 puts the onus on Obama, leaving the final decision completely in his hands, The New York Times reported. Obama’s administration told Reuters on January 22 that it will not make a decision before the end of March.
Heineman said the new route allows the pipeline to be built safely, with minimal environmental disruption, and that the jobs and revenue it would bring to Nebraska make it worthwhile. The U.S. State Department is still finishing up its environmental impact study on the entire length of the pipeline. Heineman’s signoff was delivered via a letter to Obama stating that environmental concerns over the Nebraska section had been addressed adequately by TransCanada, the firm proposing the pipeline.
“Gov. Heineman just performed one of the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska political history,” the environmental and staunch pipeline opposition group Bold Nebraska said in a statement about the decision. The governor had opposed the initial route. “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.”
Bold Nebraska is planning a vigil outside the governor’s mansion on January 29.
“Our message will be the same, we must stop this pipeline from risking our land, water and property rights,” the group’s statement said.