The Obama administration announced yesterday that it would postpone the decision on whether to approve the nearly 1,700-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline that would bring heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, traversing six states along the way.
“Because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” President Obama said of the decision.
Officials from the state department said that before the agency decides, which could be as early as 2013, it will consider alternatives to placing the pipeline in the environmentally sensitive Sandhills of Nebraska, which overlie the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source for eight states. An oil spill in that area could have disastrous and long-lasting effects.
"It is my hope that the State of Nebraska will use the State Department's decision today to protect the interests of Nebraska citizens by exercising its authority to determine the appropriate pipeline route in Nebraska, and that the State Department will support Nebraska's decision," said democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, as reported by the Lincoln Journal Star.
Yet some environmentalists say that the delay is just a political tactic. “This decision just puts off a green light for the tar sands by a year,” said Glenn Hurowitz, an environmental activist and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, in an e-mailed statement to The New York Times. “That’s why I’m a little dismayed at suggestions that this kick-the-can decision means environmentalists will enthusiastically back President Obama in 2012. Is the price of an environmentalist’s vote a year’s delay on environmental catastrophe? Excuse me, no.”
There is also controversy over the fact that TransCanada, the company that proposed the pipeline, bullied landowners into selling easements and threatened them with eminent domain, a point that field editor and Audubon’s Incite columnist Ted Williams wrote about in his pipeline article in the July-August issue.
"We have clear evidence that TransCanada began threatening landowners in Holt County and other places as early as ... April of last year," Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery said Tuesday, according to another article the Lincoln Journal Star. "They do not have a permit yet. They did not have one then, and it was completely inappropriate for them to be using this kind of tactic with landowners."
As Williams so wonderfully points out in his piece, “No matter what the State Department decides, TransCanada’s legal standing is as porous and unstable as the Sandhills themselves. And the question Americans need to ask the Obama administration and state politicians is this: Is our addiction to foreign oil really so irresistible that state lawmakers and the White House have to risk the health of U.S. citizens and trample their property rights?’