After years of debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, both in courtrooms and the public forum, Nebraska’s highest court has given a green light to the route approved by the Public Service Commission.
However, in this case, green doesn’t mean go. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Before the oil can flow from Canada through Nebraska and onto points farther south, the pipeline must first be built. And before the pipeline can be built, a trio of pending federal lawsuits must first be resolved – which there’s no guarantee will happen in a timely fashion.
It’s unclear whether any developers beyond TC Energy harbor ambitions to locate another pipeline in Nebraska, but the standards are now enshrined in a court decision. Regardless, a decision that largely closes the chapter on the state’s role provides some relief in a saga that has spanned 11 years and three presidencies – thus far, we should add.
Allowing the PSC to amend a route to best serve the public interest of Nebraskans, as the Nebraska Supreme Court did, ensures that state regulators have local control to make decisions.
The Journal Star editorial board applauded the PSC for its surprise 2017 decision to push Keystone XL east of the Sandhills away from areas of shallow groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer and reduce the number of river crossings. The new route also bypassed a wellhead protection area in Seward County.
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Given that a major concern of a possible leak was tar-sands oil seeping through the ecologically fragile Sandhills and into the state’s underground bounty, the PSC’s choice will make a world of difference if an accident occurs, presuming the pipeline is built. A spill would no doubt devastate the immediate vicinity, but its choice should presumably avert the catastrophe that would occur had oil polluted the aquifer.
Thorny questions still linger on topics such as individual property rights, the use of eminent domain, environmental safety and preservation of cultural sites sacred to Native tribes, among others. Though these matters fell outside the purview of the court’s decision, developers must be cognizant and respectful of those who would be affected by the Keystone XL’s construction.
As an editorial board, we’ve long backed the pipeline because it represents a far safer means of transporting oil than the alternative of rail. Promises of jobs and money infused into the wallets of counties and landowners, too, are appealing, but construction on Keystone XL must begin before that tantalizing dream becomes a reality.
Again, however, all of these things wholly depend on the pipeline coming to fruition, which remains no sure thing.
Nebraskans eager for its completion must pump their brakes. The ultimate fate of Keystone XL now lies outside our state’s borders and in federal courts, now that Nebraska has done its part.