After nearly a decade of twists and turns, the Nebraska Public Service Commission threw yet another curveball at the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
However, the commission’s divided, 3-2 vote to follow the little-discussed “mainline alternative” route, which enters in northern Nebraska before jogging east where it would largely parallel the existing Keystone pipeline, appears to be the best option if the long-delayed project comes to fruition.
Raging debate over the pipeline always centered on trade-offs and the best interest of Nebraskans. Economy or environment? Eminent domain or landowner rights?
Any decision would be a delicate one with a large impact – and many unhappy parties – regardless. The Public Service Commission issued a nuanced, thoughtful statement on the pipeline proposal that demonstrated it had weighed the myriad concerns of both opponents and supporters, ranging from jobs to soil.
In its ruling, the PSC correctly stated: “It is impossible to complete such a project without impacts. There is no utopian option where we reap the benefits of an infrastructure project without some effects. We are tasked with weighing those impacts against the potential benefits.”
With the state lacking the authority to change the entry point in Keya Paha County because of a decision by South Dakota, Keystone XL couldn’t run entirely alongside the smaller pipeline of the same name. If approved, it would have to cross the ecologically fragile Sandhills somewhere. By pushing east as soon as possible, concerns about the Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer are at least somewhat mitigated.
Yes, the decision adds yet more uncertainty to the pipeline. TransCanada would need to negotiate easement terms with roughly 40 new landowners, by the Journal Star’s count. In particular, the mainline’s corridor through Madison County has not undergone the environmental and other reviews that land along the company’s preferred path already had.
By no means is the approved route a slam dunk, but the largest regulatory hurdle to TransCanada is out of the way. That is, if the company decides to go ahead with the $8 billion, 1,184-mile project – something it has not yet committed to do.
As Papillion Sen. Jim Smith, an ardent supporter of Keystone XL, accurately noted, “It’s a very expensive decision to make for TransCanada.”
The Journal Star editorial board originally supported the pipeline project, and backers accurately cite its construction would likely bring a much-needed infusion of tax dollars. Since then, however, new concerns that have arisen about its economic viability, job creation and the environment linger.
Though those questions must still be answered, the Keystone XL faces its share of hurdles – not least of which is a possible rehearing or appeal. If this project indeed comes to pass, the route approved by the PSC makes the most sense for Nebraskans.