By Jane Kleeb
The pipeline can be confusing, frustrating and easy to say “I thought we took care of that” but the final decision from President Obama on whether or not TransCanada gets a permit to cross the international border won’t come til March or April at the earliest. We of course could be wrong, but that is the timeframe the State Department laid out and we can not imagine Sec. Clinton would want to have this as one of her last decisions.
We do hear the State Department is coming out with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) possibly this week. This report will have to go through a comment period and its not a “step closer to approval” as TransCanada, AFP, API, Platte, Laborers and the rest of the tarsands lovers love to say. It is a step in the process and there is still lots of time for citizens and landowners to push for basic information still needed.
When the State Department EIS does come out, here is what we will look for:
1) Comprehensive studies that cite the exact chemical contents of the pipeline and how it affects groundwater and the Ogallala Aquifer. You see, tarsands–or dilbit–gets mixed with chemicals to make it flow thru pipe and first responders, land owners and doctors need to know this information. TransCanada continues to refuse to disclose this critical information. They say we can have it “once a spill happens.” Um, too late.
2) The economic and legal impacts of TransCanada’s easement contract. Their standard contract for taking landowners land forever–yes it a permanent easement–is very one sided and does not protect landowners rights. TransCanada uses eminent domain often on landowners, makes them sign gag orders and pays pennies for a one-time payment. TransCanada is not our grandparents oil company, they do not engage landowners to make a portion of the profits and if someones great grandchild accidently knicks the pipeline and causes a rupture, the family–not TransCanada–is responsible for the damages and clean up (and the time TransCanada has to close their line). The contract needs scrutiny and has not been reviewed at all yet by the State Department of the Nebraska DEQ.
3) If the State Department actually included economic models and climate models from entities not tied to the oil industry. It might shock you–or not–but these environmental studies are more cover for oil companies and a way for companies like HDR and Cardno Entrix to make a ton of money giving favorable reviews to projects. Statements like “may have an impact” or “if a whopping crane is seen TransCanada promises to stop construction” are pretty much standard if you have the patience to read through the hundreds of pages. We did read both the entire State Department EIS and the Nebraska DEQ and we can tell you its lots of pages that are not fair or not balanced commentary.
Over the past month we learned TransCanada is under investigation for safety violations and that Susan Rice, rumored to be the top choice to replace Clinton as Secretary of State (Kerrey is up for the top post too), has millions invested in TransCanada and other tarsands companies.
There is big news regarding HDR, the company conducting the pipeline review in our state. HDR has a major conflict of interest with TransCanada and the Unicam promised citizens this would not happen after the debacle of the State Department and their reviewer which also had ties to TransCanada.
Lots of decision makers are too close for comfort with TransCanada. Heineman got caught taking money from TransCanada, which kinda breaks FEC rules since they are a foreign corporation. He gave the money back once the story broke. We have no idea what TransCanada is giving candidates now since we hear they give their lobbyists the money to pass on to folks, but we have no proof of this rumor.
To wrap this up (yes its already too long), I got to chat with Gov. Heineman while he was waiting to speak at the Farmers Union convention this past weekend. I am pretty sure I was the last person he wanted to see walk up to him, but he was just sitting up at the head table with no one bothering him, so I decided to bother him.
As a reminder, Gov. Heineman wrote to President Obama last year asking him to deny the pipeline because of the risks to the Ogallala Aquifer. Heineman said the route that crosses the Aquifer was too risky for our Ag economy.
The pipeline still crosses just as many miles of the Aquifer. It still crosses sandy hills (we can’t call them Sandhills because of the shrunken map the DEQ is using). All of the same risks that Senator Johanns talked about regarding water in the sandy hill region are all still present.
I asked the Governor to commit that he will require the DEQ to answer every question or comment in the Citizens’ Review that a group of dedicated Nebraskans worked hard on writing. He would not commit. He did take a copy of the Citizens’ Review and promoted to look it over.
I then asked if he would commit to doing what he asked the President to do—make sure the pipeline was out of the Aquifer. He said “that is not what the law is telling me to do.”
I explained to him the law passed by the Unicam actually says nothing about avoiding the Sandhills that was all something TransCanada “promised” to do and that our state never did pass “avoidance” areas that we all asked them to do during the Special Session.
The Governor and I then discussed timeline. He told me he expects to get the DEQ report by end of December or early January and that he then has 30 days to send the President his decision.
He asked what I thought the federal process looked like. I explained there is the rumor the draft of the EIS is coming out this week but that I didn’t think we would see a final report sent to the President until Spring.
Gov. Heineman thinks Clinton will give a favorable EIS before she leaves. I think Clinton is running for President and will leave this hot potato up to President Obama and whoever he appoints to the post.
Ben Gotschall, a local Farmers Union officer and works with Bold, asked the Governor during the general Q+A if he would listen to citizens concerns over the Aquifer and the sandy soils that the route still crosses. The Governor said he is not “prejudging” the route and is waiting to see the full review from TransCanada, oh, I mean HDR, oh, I mean the DEQ.
If Heineman does approve the route as is and if the DEQ keeps HDR as the lead company providing the review of this route we know this was all politics and that Heineman is now for the pipeline because he thinks the President might be against it and simply does not ever want to be on the same side as the President.
Oh, and the whole DEQ process is being challenged in court…but that’s for next time.