February 12, 2015
Dear Mr. Kral,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, including construction standards. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
In September 2008, the Canadian company TransCanada applied for a permit from the U.S. Department of State to cross the U.S.-Canada international border while constructing the Keystone XL pipeline project. If constructed, the pipeline would carry crude oil produced from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Keystone XL would have the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels per day, delivering crude oil to the market hub at Cushing, OK, and to further destinations in Texas. TransCanada also is planning to build an additional short pipeline so that oil from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota can utilize the Keystone XL pipeline as well.
The construction of petroleum facilities connecting the United States with a foreign country requires a Presidential Permit from the State Department based on a determination of national interest. One element of the determination for the Keystone XL project is the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Publication of the final EIS on August 26, 2011, marked the beginning of a 90-day review period for the national interest determination. During that period, the State Department consulted with other relevant federal agencies and conducted public hearings necessary to make its determination. According to the State Department, a wide range of public comments both favoring and opposing the pipeline project was received.
On November 11, 2011, the State Department announced that the final decision on granting a Presidential Permit was delayed pending an extensive review of the intended route. The announcement was made following the Nebraska state government’s concerns over Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region, which is along the proposed pipeline’s route. This concern led the Nebraska legislature to enact new state pipeline citing requirements that would alter the pipeline route through Nebraska. The Sand Hills region is a nearly 20,000 square mile sand dune formation with highly porous soil and extensive areas of very shallow groundwater. The groundwater in question, the Ogallala Aquifer, also provides water to parts of Northeastern New Mexico. The sitting process in Nebraska was the subject of pending litigation, which was a factor in the delay of the pipeline. On January 9, 2015, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that struck down a proposed route for the pipeline through the state.
A number of members of Congress have argued that the administration should make a decision on the Keystone pipeline quickly, and I agree. Others have also demanded that the Administration approve or deny permits for the pipeline immediately. I have not pushed for or against the pipeline–which is a specific project by a private sector company–other than to say it should be evaluated properly with all environmental and economic factors taken into account. In the past several years, several provisions have been included in legislation to either require President Obama to grant a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline project, or to require expedited consideration of the permit. On January 6, 2014, Senator John Hoeven introduced S. 1, a bill to mandate immediate approval the Keystone XL Pipeline. Similar legislation, H.R. 3, was introduced and ultimately passed in the House of Representatives. S. 1 was up for a vote in the Senate on January 29, 2015 and I voted against this bill. This legislation passed with the final vote count at 62-36. The bill will be sent to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law or given a presidential veto.
I have opposed these legislative efforts to force approval of the pipeline because I do not believe Congress should short-circuit the established legal review process for a specific pipeline project for one company. Instead, I believe that the president and federal agencies should conduct these environmental and policy reviews in an objective, unbiased manner, following the laws that Congress has enacted covering these issues, and make the decision in the national interest. Please be assured I will continue to follow this issue closely and will keep your thoughts in mind.
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me. Please feel free to contact me with your concerns regarding any federal issue by visiting my website at www.tomudall.senate.gov. For more information, you may also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall and receive up to the minute updates through my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/senatortomudall.
Very truly yours,
United States Senator