Here's what I've been waiting for: A Republican to stand up to TransCanada and try to protect his constituents from the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to declare that he cannot support the Keystone XL pipeline based on the information thus far presented by TransCanada and the State Department in its inadequate draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
Senator Johanns shares the concern of many Nebraskans and other folks who drink water that Keystone XL poses an unacceptable risk to the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies (Johanns quotes from the DEIS) "78% of the public water supply and 83% of irrigation water in Nebraska." Johanns also objects to the absence of substantial discussion of the unique Sandhills ecosystem, whose sandy soils might allow oil spills to penetrate the soil faster than they would elsewhere.
Senator Johanns hammers on the point that the DEIS assumes Keystone XL must cross the border at Morgan, Montana. He acknowledges that the nearly straight line from Morgan to Steele City, Nebraska, crosses the least land and thus poses what on paper looks like less environmental impact than routes that detour here and there from that straight line.
So the Senator from Nebraska proposes a whole 'nother route:
Understanding the primary role that distance plays in the consideration of pipeline alternative routes, I was disturbed by the fact that the DEIS contains no substantial discussion of a route that would run parallel to the existing Keystone route from Steele City, Nebraska, north to the U.S. border in Cavalier County, North Dakota. This route would be far shorter than the proposed route, and shorter than every alternative considered in the DEIS. And if—as the DEIS has argued—shorter distance generally coincides with a less severe environmental impact, then one could conclude that such a route would be better for the environment [Senator Mike Johanns, letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 2010.10.14].
Uff da. Check that map: The purple dashed line is the hypotenuse Johanns doesn't like. The red line is the Keystone I route that runs through eastern South Dakota.
Now there's a tricky question: do we cause less environmental damage by digging a new, shorter route or by laying Keystone XL along the longer existing route? Do we double the leak risk for eastern South Dakota, or do we split the risk with our West River neighbors? Do we subject a whole new crop of landowners to TransCanada's intrusions, or do we subject landowners on the Keystone I route to another year of the same distress they went through in 2009?
You know, we could avoid difficult questions like this altogether by simply denying TransCanada the permit for its harmful, unnecessary, and potentially defective pipeline. Senator Johanns isn't quite to that point: he says "it is in our national interest to obtain oil from allies" and that "appropriate use and construction of oil pipelines can directly meet this national interest." But if the State Department doesn't consider the Keystone I parallel route for Keystone XL, the Nebraska Republican may be ready to join the chorus saying a flat No to Keystone XL.
Update 19:14 CDT: The State Department has given no indication of when it might approve the Keystone XL permit [James MacPherson and Josh Funk, "Canada-US pipeline on hold amid oil's recent woes," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2010.10.17].