Keystone XL Route Changes Pay Lip Service to Environmental Concerns

To satisfy environmental concerns, TransCanada is proposing a new route for portions of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Nebraska.

But the new route does little to assuage grave environmental concerns about the project.

The focus is on the sensitive sandy areas that skirt the Ogallala Aquifer, the state’s most important aquifer.

All three "significant" changes to the northern route require federal approval. 

"Based on feedback from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the public, we have refined our proposed routing of the Keystone XL Pipeline," says Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO. "The preferred alternative route in this Supplemental Environmental Report was developed based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state."

Environmental groups describe the modifications as mere lipservice.

"The new route still risks our land, water and property rights. The new route still crosses high water tables, sandy soil which leads to higher vulnerability of contamination and still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of Nebraska’s economy," says Jane Kleeb, head of Bold Nebraska.

"Nebraskans from Republican Governor Heinemann and Senator Mike Johanns to landowners and conservationists have previously said these areas of valuable natural resources are unacceptable for the pipeline to cross," says the Sierra Club. "This is yet another example of the disrespect TransCanada has for the landowners and environment."

"The reason TransCanada needs to keep rerouting the Keystone XL map is because it’s just a bad idea," says Joe Mendelson, climate and energy policy director with the National Wildlife Federation. "Each new map amounts to a catalog of which property owners will suffer, and what habitat will be placed at risk. The best approach is to ditch Keystone XL entirely and embrace clean energy solutions that don’t spill or explode."

Property rights are a major bone of contention.In Texas, for example, TransCanada has been using its questionable status as a common carrier to seize and condemn land it wants for the pipeline. 

After several arrests last week, protesters continue to chain themselves to bulldozers near Saltillo, Texas, as part of rolling protest actions across the state. The blockades have been relatively peaceful and have caused delays in route-clearance work.

TransCanada is already building the Canadian part of the pipeline believing it will inevitably be approved. Mitt Romney says he’ll approved as soon as he takes office – expanded oil resources in North America are the centerpiece of the GOP energy platform.

For more about ongoing Tar Sands protests:

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