White House rejects Keystone XL Pipeline

Nov. 6, 2015, 11:45 a.m. ·

Crews lay the pipes for the Keystone Pipeline in northeast Nebraska in the early 2000s. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, Nebraska Public Media News)

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President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's request to build the Keystone XL pipeline today (Friday, Nov. 6).

The announcement came just a few days after the White House rejected a request by TransCanada to delay a decision on its application for the controversial oil pipeline.

More NET News coverage: Fred Knapp will have an in-depth story on the decision on NET Radio Friday at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. CT, and Saturday at 7:35 and 8:35 a.m. CT.

Keystone XL pipeline route map

NET News Keystone XL pipeline coverage

TransCanada trying a new way for Keystone XL approval in Nebraska (Sept. 29, 2015)

Keystone XL fight renewed over eminent domain issue (March 11, 2015)

Injunction issued against Keystone XL land seizure (Feb, 12, 2015)

Nebraska Supreme Court upholds Keystone XL siting law (Jan. 9, 2015)

Future of Keystone XL pipeline in hands of Nebraska Supreme Court (Sept. 5, 2014)

Five things you must know about the XL pipeline lawsuit (Sept. 3, 2014)

Nebraska lawsuit cited in latest Keystone XL delay (April 18, 2014)

Court finds Keystone XL siting law unconstitutional; Bruning to appeal (Feb. 19, 2014)

Keystone XL siting law in hands of judge (Sept. 27, 2013)

Video segments of Keystone XL pipeline hearing in Grand Island (April 18, 2013)

U.S. State Dept. report seen as favoring Keystone XL; Nebraska differences noted (March 1, 2013)

Heineman recommends Keystone XL pipeline route to Feds (Jan. 22, 2013)

Pipeline siting law challenged; landowners divided (Sept. 24, 2012)

TransCanada proposes changes to Keystone XL route (Sept. 5, 2012)

Eminent domain, governor's power considered in pipeline session (Nov. 7, 2011)

Two more pipeline regulation bills introduced (Nov. 1, 2011)

Landowners facing urgent choices on Keystone XL (April 12, 2011)

Keystone XL land owner negotiations questioned (Nov. 18, 2010)

TransCanada planning second oil pipeline (Nov. 26, 2009)

Keystone pipeline boosts Norfolk economy (Sept. 16, 2009)

In his announcement at the White House, Obama said the pipeline would not deliver enough jobs or economic activity to justify approving the project. And it would undermine the U.S. position on fighting climate change ahead of an important global climate summit in Paris.

"America’s now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," Obama said. "And, frankly, approving this project would undercut that leadership."

A short time after Obama made his announcement, Nebraskans figured prominently on a national conference call celebrating the decision. One of them was Jane Kleeb, director of the anti-pipeline group BOLD Nebraska.

“Nebraska is TransCanada’s Achilles heel,” Kleeb said. “We have over 100 landowners who are still in court and will continue to be in court with TransCanada because we believe TransCanada used an illegal process to get their route approved the first time here in our state.”

Rancher, Randy Thompson, owned land on the original route proposed for the Keystone XL. On the same conference call he remembered what got him started on the issue.

“The day that the TransCanada representative stood on our doorstep and told us ‘Here’s the deal and you better take it because if you don’t we’re going to be pumping oil through your land in a few months anyhow. So if you’re smart, you’re going to take our deal,’” Thompson said. “I guess that didn’t set real well with me and it’s kind of very gratifying that they’re going to have to eat those words.”

Not everyone was gratified by Obama’s announcement. Nebraska state Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion sponsored a law TransCanada used to seek approval for its route in the state.

“Well I think the president had in his mind from the very beginning that he wanted to deny this pipeline,” Smith said. “I don’t believe for one moment that he gave serious consideration to the comments made from Nebraska, from citizens of Nebraska or from people around the country that wanted to see this done.”

Battles over the pipeline’s route in Nebraska played out in the Legislature, which held a special session that led to TransCanada revising its original proposed route through the Sandhills. The legislature also passed a law offering the company an option it used to secure route approval from Gov. Dave Heineman. That process is being challenged in court, and TransCanada recently opted to try and get approval through the Public Service Commission instead.

Heineman’s successor, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, criticized Friday’s decision. In a written statement, Ricketts said “Keystone XL would have brought good-paying jobs and much-needed tax revenue to Nebraska’s counties. President Obama’s politically-motivated decision to reject this project puts the jobs and this tax revenue at risk.”

For Bill Dunavan, the decision is a break after more than seven years working to stop the pipeline. He and his wife, Susan, live on 80 acres near McCool Junction, south of York, Nebraska. It’s prairie land the Dunavans have restored over the decades. They’re part of a lawsuit challenging TransCanada’s attempt to use eminent domain to dig up their land and bury its pipeline there.

Bill Dunavan says it feels good knowing their land won’t be torn up, at least for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. But he says it’s still time for opponents to keep their guard up.

“It has to be, because the pipeline company’s not used that “c” word for cancellation,” Dunavan said. “And the rest of it’s a political football.”

That political football could still bounce TransCanada’s way if the company waits to re-apply for a federal permit, says Chris Peterson, spokeman for Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, a pro-pipeline group.

“If that means waiting until after the November 2016 presidential elections until we have a new occupant in the White House who supports an ‘all of the above” energy policy,’ well that’s what we hope TransCanada does,” Peterson said.

Backers of the pipeline are expected to challenge the decision in court. And Republicans who control Congress may try to override the president.

Another open question is whether TransCanada will try to recoup the more-than $2 billion it says it has already spent on the project's development. Earlier in the year, the company left the door open to suing the U.S. government under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline may not serve as the final decision on the project. But it is an important turning point in the long, twisted path the Keystone XL debate has taken in Nebraska.

**This story was updated 11/6/15 4:15pm.