WASHINGTON — TransCanada on Friday filed a new presidential permit application for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline and called for a speedy decision on the project once a new route through Nebraska is finalized.
The new application is for a pipeline from Canada to a hub at Steele City, Neb., where it will tie into other pipelines that run south to Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada has decoupled the pipeline’s southern portion, which would relieve a glut of oil at Cushing, Okla., and is pursuing it separately.
President Barack Obama has called for federal agencies to expedite approvals for the southern leg over the objections of environmental groups. Obama has resisted approving the northern section of the pipeline without additional review and a finalized route through Nebraska.
TransCanada has identified a new preferred Nebraska route that would avoid the state’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills and is expected to refine that corridor over the coming months with the input of public meetings and a review by the state. TransCanada says it will supplement its new permit application with the final Nebraska route information once known.
Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement Friday that the new application builds on the thousands of pages of reviews produced over three years in connection with the original application — reviews that found the project would have little adverse environmental impact.
“It was the most comprehensive process ever for a cross-border pipeline, and that work should allow our cross-border permit to be processed expeditiously and a decision (to be) made once a new route in Nebraska is determined,” he said.
The original application was rejected by the Obama administration, which said it did not have enough time to make a decision before a deadline set by Capitol Hill Republicans.
The new application officially starts back at square one of the process, although pipeline backers clearly hope the existing materials will speed it up. The State Department indicated it will hire an independent third-party contractor to review existing materials and help with new analysis.
“We will conduct our review efficiently, using existing analysis as appropriate,” the department said in a statement. It said the department would cooperate with the state of Nebraska and other relevant agencies throughout the process.
“Previously when we announced review of alternate routes through Nebraska this past fall, our best estimate on when we would complete the national interest determination was the first quarter of 2013,” the department’s statement noted.
The new application helps keep the project a hot topic in a presidential election year.
U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said the new application will enhance the effort he’s helped lead to require the project’s approval.
“You can’t force the decision to be made on an application unless the application is filed, so that’s a help,” Terry said.
House Republicans included Terry’s Keystone XL language in a transportation bill it passed last month. Senate Democrats have indicated they will fight to remove the wording.
“But I’ve talked to the speaker, and he said they’re willing to fight for the pipeline, so it’ll be interesting,” Terry said.
Backers of the project say it would help create jobs and provide greater energy security. Critics dispute the economic development and energy security claims and have raised concerns about environmental risks.
But pipeline backers point to tall stacks of environmental reviews that found the project poses little hazard to environmental resources along the route. Opponents have questioned the reliability of those studies.
Jane Kleeb, head of the environmental advocacy group Bold Nebraska, issued a statement Thursday reiterating the group’s objections to the project, which it says would endanger Nebraska’s groundwater.
“A transparent process at the federal level will show TransCanada’s risky pipeline is not in our national interest,” Kleeb said. “A transparent process at the state level will show a route that crosses the Ogallala Aquifer is too risky, just as Gov. Heineman said to the president when he asked Obama to deny the pipeline permit.”
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