The draft supplemental environmental impact statement released last week by the State Department on the Keystone XL Pipeline is a superficial affirmation of its earlier work.
The statement is unfairly dismissive of the unique characteristics of Nebraska's Sandhills.
"Avoidance of the Sandhills topographic region and (the Ogallala aquifer) are not considered appropriate screening criteria for the identification of alternative routes."
After verbiage describing other possible routes, the report boils it down to this:
TransCanada's initial proposal is the "shortest route and requires less new pipeline construction than the other alternatives under consideration and would therefore have the least overall environmental impact."
In fact, the statement occasionally seems more concerned about TransCanada's profit margin than Nebraska's natural resources. The statement goes on to remark, "In addition, the fewer line miles of construction that are necessary would typically translate to lower overall construction capital costs and lifetime operating costs of the system."
The observation seems jarringly out of place in a document that purports to be an analysis of the environmental impact of the project.
Taxpayers have every right to expect analysis that is properly focused, objective and more thorough.
Nebraskans -- actually all Americans -- have 45 days beginning Friday to offer comment on the 300-page supplemental environmental impact statement. The report and an opportunity to leave an official comment can be found at www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov.
We hope that Nebraskans will take full advantage of this opportunity to inform the State Department of the special nature of the Sandhills, especially the difficulty of restoring vegetation once it is stripped from the sandy soil for construction of the pipeline or for cleaning up spills.
As Prof. James Goecke of the University of Nebraska said in an interim legislative report on the pipeline, "From observation of areas in the Sandhills that have been farmed and allowed to go back to a semblance of original vegetation, many would tell you that re-vegetation in the Sandhills is never complete."
In addition, the porous nature of soil in the Sandhills, combined with a high water table in many areas, mean that any spill would be more likely to contaminate the Ogallala aquifer than in other parts of Nebraska where the soil contains more clay and is less permeable.
We hope the Environmental Protection Agency will be just as assertive in criticizing the supplemental report as it was in its comments on the State Department's first effort. The State Department has little expertise in assessing environmental impact -- and, once again, it shows.
Unfortunately, it seems as though state senators are too timid to assert state rights in this area, even though the Congressional Research Service said in a report that the state has authority over siting of the pipeline.
So the comment period that runs from Friday to June 6 might be Nebraskans' last chance to have a say. Don't let the chance slip away. The State Department said it plans to announce its decision on the pipeline before the end of the year.