Sen. Nelson: Pipeline’s path is biggest Keystone hangup

Most Nebraskans want to see the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline built — as long as it is rerouted to avoid a precious aquifer — the state’s former governor, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, said today.

The pipeline’s proposed path — snaking through the Ogallala Aquifer and Nebraska’s sand hills as it travels from Alberta to the Gulf Coast — is causing the biggest fear in the state, Nelson said.

“Most of the opposition is related to the site,” Nelson said during an energy jobs summit sponsored by The Hill newspaper and the American Petroleum Institute. Most Nebraskans believe Keystone XL should be built, but “in a safe location and in a safe manner.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is poised to make a decision about whether the 36-inch pipeline is in the national interest by the end of the year. The State Department’s recently concluded that there would be “no significant impacts to most resources” along the planned 1,700-mile route. As part of that analysis, the State Department considered more than a dozen potential routes.

Although the decision to approve or reject the pipeline rests in the administration’s hands, Nebraska may be the biggest battleground over the project.

Last week, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman called on President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline, and previously, he insisted that Nelson could be doing more to pressure the administration on the issue.

Nelson, in turn, stressed today that decisions about the Keystone XL’s route through Nebraska are up to Heineman. The governor can force changes in the pipeline’s path, Nelson insisted.

“If the governor wants it in a different location, it’s a state issue,” Nelson said. “He can use the power of the governor’s office to work with the Keystone people . . . toward a different location.”

Nelson added that the proposed path may be too risky.

“I clearly would prefer to have it away from the pristine and very fragile part of the state’s geography,” Nelson said. “It would be wise not to have it in this particular location,” where a spill risks bigger environmental damage than in other regions.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Nelson could try to push for a change as part of legislation to fund the federal government. Asked about that option today, Nelson would not rule the tactic out.