Nebraska Moves With Urgency on Keystone XL--Why Can't the Feds?

While federal government dilly-dallies on Keystone pipeline, state governments effectively address it.

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Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for

Late last month Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill that reroutes the Keystone XL pipeline away from the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region. The bill is the result of a directive to TransCanada, Keystone's builder, from the U.S. State Department that moves the pipeline away from the Ogallala aquifer. Environmentalists strongly opposed the location due to concerns over potential spills and carbon emissions from the production of crude from Canadian oil sands.

When the State Department ordered TransCanada to find a new route, Reuters reported that the delay set back the $7 billion, Canada-to-Texas pipeline by more than a year. The pipeline is projected to deliver about 700,000 barrels a day.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.] 

While Keystone's development and the potential economic catalyst to the region was stalled, Nebraska lawmakers voted as if they had a sense of urgency and actually understood how many families are hurting and how many bread-winners need to earn a decent living. They voted unanimously not only to move the pipeline but they also approved a second bill that funds a study that will identify the appropriate pipeline route. Heineman signed both bills and in 15 days Nebraska's lawmakers brought to a close the special legislative session that was dedicated exclusively to creating regulations for the Keystone-XL pipeline.

That collective effort suggests—dare I say it?—that representative government can work. Nebraska produced a swift, good faith response that complies with the State Department mandate and effectively says, "We've addressed the Sandhills issue and are ready now to move forward."

[Read the U.S. News debate on whether it is time to drill in the Arctic Refuge.]

According to Reuters, Governor Heineman summed it up in modest fashion. "Our work is done," he said.  

If only the federal government were able to move as expeditiously as the folks in Nebraska. I'd really like to see this column have a happy ending (being this close to Christmas) but sadly, it does not. The State Department has postponed issuance of the Keystone-XL permit to TransCanada until after the 2012 presidential election.

Perhaps those bureaucrats who are comfortable doing nothing might explain their inaction to the men and women whose unemployment checks have already run out.

  • Read about how the Keystone XL pipeline delay complicates Obama's political problems.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.
  • Read the U.S. News debate on fracking.