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Future Of Keystone XL Pipeline Back In Obama's Hands


As promised, the House today passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Senate is expected to take up the issue in coming weeks. President Obama has threatened a veto. Also today, one of the reasons the president has cited to delay a decision has been resolved for now. That was a legal challenge over the route the pipeline would take through Nebraska. NPR's Jeff Brady begins our coverage.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Keystone XL supporters won before the Nebraska Supreme Court today, but it wasn't a simple victory. The big legal question was over a state law that gave Nebraska's governor power to approve the pipeline route. Opponents argue the law violated Nebraska's Constitution. Four of the justices, a majority, actually sided with pipeline opponents, but they needed just one more for a super-majority to rule the law unconstitutional. So the ruling was a victory for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline. One of the Nebraska landowners who was party to the suit, Randy Thompson, was clearly frustrated.

RANDY THOMPSON: You know, it's time for the president to put an end to this damn thing.

BRADY: Opponents want President Obama to block the pipeline, which would transport crude from Alberta's tar sands down to the U.S. Gulf Coast. They don't like that producing the oil emits more pollution than traditional drilling and that the route through Nebraska passes over an underground aquifer that farmers rely on for irrigation. Jane Kleeb, with the group Bold Nebraska, says opponents will continue their campaign.

JANE KLEEB: Obviously we have a bloody nose this morning, but we are not down for the count. We will continue to stand up and fight this risky route.

BRADY: That could include protest or even even another legal challenge over the pipeline route. TransCanada says it's prepared for whatever legal or policy battles come next and remains committed to building the pipeline. The company first sought approval for it in 2008. A lot has changed in the oil market since then, and some have questioned whether it's still needed. TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling says it is. He says not one of the companies with contracts to use the pipeline has said they don't want it any longer.

RUSS GIRLING: To the extent that any of those customers do want to leave their contracts, we have other customers waiting to take over those contracts if they want out.

BRADY: Girling says lower crude prices make the pipeline even more valuable to oil producers in Canada. He says shipping oil by pipeline is cheaper than other alternatives such as trains. Opponents counter that, without a pipeline, the crude becomes unprofitable. They think companies will choose to leave the tar sands crude in the ground instead, an outcome that those opponents would prefer. The State Department put the pipeline review process on hold because of the Nebraska case. Now, spokesperson Jen Psaki says that determination of whether the pipeline is in the national interest can resume, though she wouldn't offer a timeline for when it would be completed.

JEN PSAKI: We certainly understand the interest - I guess I'll put it that way - from both opponents and supporters of the Keystone Pipeline, but we have a responsibility to see the process through. It was written in a certain way, so that's what we're doing at the State Department.

BRADY: If the Keystone XL pipeline does eventually get approved, TransCanada says it will need two summers to finish construction. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.