What Next on Keystone XL?
Plains Justice has gotten several inquiries since President Obama denied the Keystone XL presidential permit application last week about what happens now. Our Magic 8 ball is warmed up and ready to answer your easy questions.
- Is this whole circus over with now? Outlook not so good.
- Will TransCanada reapply? You may rely on it.
- Will there be more proceedings in the states? It is decidedly so.
- Will landowners continue to fight eminent domain proceedings? Without a doubt.
The tougher questions are about timeline. TransCanada needs some guarantees soon about when it will have pipe in the ground and stop hemorrhaging money. There have been suggestions that Keystone XL may be segmented to avoid the need for a presidential permit. Since segmentation of a project with a major federal component to avoid Environmental Impact Statement requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act is, in a word, illegal, we expect the bright spark at TransCanada who started talking to the press about that idea to be extinguished as soon as lawyers are consulted. Either that or a pack of lawyers can count on full employment in the upcoming NEPA litigation.
Other predictions and recommendations relate to what will happen in the states. Montana alone of all the route states has a “mini-NEPA” that allows for environmental review during major project siting, and used that authority to good effect in getting much better review and conditions out of TransCanada – including pipeline access for in-state oil producers – than any other state managed. Down in Nebraska, the head of the Department of Environmental Quality recently made his way to Washington, D.C., to explain what happened in Nebraska to the (take a deep breath) U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Long story short, Nebraska retroactively decided that a little environmental review would be a good idea and rushed to do it on short time and a shorter budget. Comparatively speaking, Montana did a better job and got a better result by having a good siting law in place. So Plains Justice predicts that at least one or two other route states – Nebraska being an obvious candidate – will learn from this episode and pass some pro-active siting legislation so that they don’t wake up one morning to find another ill-advised project wreaking havoc in an ecologically sensitive area without any serious state review. We certainly recommend it.
Many people are currently making careers out of demanding that the feds get out of everything. They’d better have as good or better state level governance solutions, or radically bad projects like Keystone XL will become the norm, not the exception.