New Keystone route proposed, but green groups unswayed

The company behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline has proposed re-routing the U.S. portion to gain support from environmental groups that have pressured President Obama to block the project.

Canadian firm TransCanada Corp. said in a statement Wednesday that it proposed an alternative route to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). It cited Nebraskan fears that the pipeline, which would bring Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, originally passed through the highly erodible Sandhills region and could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, a valuable source of drinking water.

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"TransCanada shares the goal of protecting key water and natural resources with Nebraskans,” TransCanada CEO and President Russ Girling said Wednesday in a statement. “The identified route, along with our commitment to implement additional safety requirements above and beyond those required for any other pipeline, ensures the protection of Nebraska's resources."

The state hopes to send a finalized report to Gov. Dave Heineman (R) by the end of this year, the Nebraska DEQ said. He will have 30 days after that to rule on the new route.

Obama delayed making a final decision on the U.S. leg of the pipeline until after the election, claiming that he did not have enough time to review the plan. Republicans argue that was a concession to environmentalists, who were key supporters of Obama’s 2008 campaign and had expressed concerns the president neglected their causes early in his term.

TransCanada has begun constructing the Canadian part of the pipeline in hopes that Obama’s hesitation to approve the U.S. share is a product of election-year jitters. The administration has final say over the project because it crosses national boundaries.

But the changes offered Wednesday did little to calm environmentalists’ concerns, who have opposed the project on grounds that it would increase U.S. use of fossil fuels in addition to endangering natural resources.

“The reason TransCanada needs to keep rerouting the Keystone XL map is because it’s just a bad idea,” Joe Mendelson, climate and energy policy director with the National Wildlife Federation, said Wednesday in a statement. “Each new map amounts to a catalog of which property owners will suffer, and what habitat will be placed at risk. The best approach is to ditch Keystone XL entirely and embrace clean energy solutions that don’t spill or explode.”

With expanded drilling being the centerpiece of the GOP energy platform, Republicans say Obama’s failure to approve the project shows his disdain for the fossil fuel industry. They say the project would provide jobs and cheap energy to help boost the economy.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would approve the pipeline on his first day in office.

Democrats have not rallied en masse around Obama's position. Some union groups back the Keystone project, saying it would provide needed jobs. The AFL-CIO, for its part, has so far abstained from taking a formal position on the project.

Still, most voters support the idea of Keystone XL. A July Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 62 percent of registered voters favored approving the pipeline.

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