On Keystone XL route, states allow different risks, reap different benefits

 

This article was first published by InsideClimate News.

If the Keystone XL oil pipeline were approved today, residents in the six states along its route would not receive equal treatment from TransCanada, the company that wants to build the project.

The differences are particularly striking when it comes to tax revenue and environmental protection. States with stronger regulations have won protections for their citizens, while other states sometimes focused more on meeting TransCanada's needs.

In Kansas, for example, lawmakers gave TransCanada a 10-year tax exemption, which means the state won't receive any property tax revenue from the pipeline. Meanwhile, each of the other five states—Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas—would earn between $14 million and $63 million a year, according to U.S. State Department estimates.


InsideClimate News Keystone XL State Comparison Primer

When it comes to route changes and protection for landowners, residents of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have fared the worst, because their states haven't created any regulations to safeguard their interests.

"All the power is in the hands of the pipeline companies," said Chris Wilson, an independent environmental consultant from Texas who opposes the Keystone XL. Landowners along the route "are really screwed…there's no one in the government they can call for help."

The Obama administration put the Keystone XL on hold in November, saying it needed another year to reassess the environmental risks the project could pose. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are trying to force the president to make his decision by February 21. The pipeline would move oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Because the Keystone XL would cross state boundaries, both federal and state agencies are involved in its regulation. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) handles safety issues, such as pipeline thickness and operating pressure. Individual states are responsible for pipeline siting, the process that determines a pipeline's exact route within state borders.

But only the state of Montana has chosen to exercise that power, leaving citizens who object to the pipeline's path in other states no option but to shell out money for a court battle, or appeal to local officials who often lack the resources and experience to challenge a major corporation.

In Montana, however, the state's Department of Environmental Quality used a decades-old siting act to minimize environmental damage along the route. TransCanada has rerouted more than 100 miles of the Keystone XL in response to agency and landowner concerns. If the pipeline is approved, the company also must post a bond so funds are available to repair construction-related damage.

DEQ staffer Greg Hallsten, who worked on Keystone XL siting, said that although TransCanada sometimes objected to the agency's reroutes, its complaints were overruled.

"We have [siting] authority in the state," he said. "Our authority's never been challenged along those lines."

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said the vast differences in pipeline regulation reflect the political landscape of each state. "We appreciate that each state has their own guidelines," he said. "It's not up to us to modify or create legislation. We're working with the state governments to meet [their] guidelines and get this project approved."

Other states could follow Montana's lead by pressuring their legislators to create pipeline regulation, said Pat Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor who studies land use and environmental policy. "If there's a popular enough demand," it can be done, he said.

That's what happened in Nebraska, where residents worked for years to persuade their lawmakers to reroute the Keystone XL out of the ecologically sensitive Sandhills. Farmers and ranchers picketed the governor's mansion, traveled to Washington, D.C. and repeatedly called for a special session to draft siting regulations for interstate pipelines. As the momentum grew, TransCanada offered Nebraska a $100 million dollar spill bond for the Sandhills region—a protection it didn't offer any of the other states.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman finally called a special session in November, where bills were passed to move the pipeline out of the Sandhills and to give the Public Service Commission authority to site future oil pipelines (excluding Keystone XL). TransCanada is now working with state environmental officials to establish a new route for its pipeline.

What Nebraskans have done is very significant, said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause. Legislators won't act unless they feel outside pressure from constituents, she said, so getting those bills passed is "no small accomplishment…Nebraska citizens clearly proved this can be done."

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...