Keystone takes key step

The Keystone Oil Pipeline is pictured under construction in North Dakota in this undated photograph released on January 18, 2012.



WASHINGTON, DC -- The controversial Keystone XL pipeline cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, with Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman giving the project his seal of approval.

Heineman, a Republican, wrote President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday to say his state has crossed the 'ts' and dotted the 'i's on TransCanada's application and he has approved it, meaning the only step left is for the president to sign off.

In his two-page letter, Heineman said he was confident the pipeline's new route and 57 additional safety measures meant it no longer threatened environmentally sensitive areas in the state -- a key concern for Obama when he rejected the application a year ago.

"Construction and operation of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, with the mitigation and commitments from Keystone would have minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska," Heineman wrote. "Impacts on aquifers from a release should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any clean up."

Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the State Department is reviewing the project for the White House.

But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland cautioned Tuesday no one should expect a decision before the end of March at least, even with Nebraska now supportive of the project that would ship about 700,000 barrels of crude a day from Alberta's oilsands to refineries in the southern United States.

"We were waiting for Nebraska to make its decision," Nuland told reporters. "Obviously we want to take the Nebraska environmental study and compare it to the work that we've done, but I think we are still where we said we were, which was that we don't anticipate concluding before the end of the first quarter."

Officials in Canada welcomed Tuesday's news, with Alberta Premier Allison Redford saying in a statement she was, "pleased to see the governor carefully reviewed a state report that concluded environmental concerns were minimal, economic benefits to his state were high and that a pipeline carrying oilsands crude should not be treated differently than any other crude."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver praised Heineman's support.

"Our desire is to work with the Obama Administration in achieving final approval," Oliver said in a statement. "We believe Keystone XL will enhance the future economic prosperity and security of both Canada and the United States."

A year ago, Obama rejected TransCanada's application citing an arbitrary deadline for him to decide -- imposed by Republicans in Congress -- did not allow sufficient time to study the environmental impact of the pipeline's new route in Nebraska.

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