Nebraska nod puts Keystone pipeline decision squarely on Obama by Shawn McCarthy and Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – January 23, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA and CALGARY — TransCanada Corp.’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline project has cleared a key hurdle in Nebraska, leaving U.S. President Barack Obama to decide whether the promised benefits of energy security and construction jobs will trump concerns over climate change.

In a show of optimism, TransCanada chief executive officer Russ Girling said Tuesday that his company is gearing up to begin work on one of the biggest construction projects the United States can expect this year as soon as there is a positive decision from Washington.

In a letter to the President, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said the state has approved TransCanada’s new route that avoids a fragile ecological zone and that the project would provide $418-million (U.S.) in economic benefits in his state alone.

Mr. Obama cited the potential impact on Nebraska’s Sandhills region when he first delayed the project last November and told TransCanada to work with Nebraska on a new route.

With Mr. Heineman’s approval, all eyes now turn to Washington, where Mr. Obama signalled in his inaugural address Monday that the fight against climate change will rank high on the agenda for his second term, along with boosting the sluggish economic recovery.

Environmentalists took that as a signal that the Keystone XL pipeline is in trouble, but proponents note the State Department concluded in an earlier environmental assessment that the pipeline itself would not contribute to higher greenhouse-gas emissions because production would occur in the oil sands with or without it. And supporters suggest Mr. Obama is unlikely to turn down a secure source of oil when events in the Middle East – where much of the world’s oil exports originate – continue to boil.

The Harper government is lobbying heavily to get the project approved to connect Alberta oil sands producers to the vast Gulf Coast refining market, and help ease the pipeline bottleneck that has depressed crude prices in western Canada.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, lauded Nebraska’s announcement but said there’s still work to be done. “This is progress for Keystone but it’s not over by any means,” he said in an interview.

The Keystone project would help Mr. Obama fulfill his pledge to reduce U.S. dependence on overseas oil, the ambassador added. “The president has the ability in his second term to get very close to energy independence [for North America],” Mr. Doer said.

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