Clean | Green | Sustainable

Where do MT politicians stand on Keystone XL Pipeline?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 8, 2011

Last week, U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska) released the following statement in support of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman’s request to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas. (click here for an interactive map of the pipepline.)

“I support Governor Heineman’s request that President Obama and Secretary Clinton deny the current application from TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline along a route crossing Nebraska’s Sand Hills and the center of the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Johanns. “The proposed route is the wrong route. It’s clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed.

“Amid much discussion about authorities, one thing is irrefutable and that is the State Department’s authority to approve or reject TransCanada’s current permit application. The Governor has now unequivocally stated that the application should be denied; I agree. TransCanada should be forced to select a more appropriate pipeline route.”

Apparently the entire Nebraska congressional delegation has followed suit, opposing the current pipeline route and calling for the US State Department to deny the permit application from TransCanada. That got me thinking, “Where do Montana’s governor and congressional delegation stand on the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Well, despite a recent Exxon-Mobile pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River, our Democratic Governor Brain Schweitzer has refused to rescind his support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Montana’s congressional delegation has attempted to be a little more nuanced in their approach, but the bottom line sure seems to be that they support the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For example, in April, Rep Rehberg wrote Secretary of State Clinton and urged her to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, while he also expressed some concerns with property rights of eastern Montana farmers and ranchers. Then, on August 26, 2011, Representative Denny Rehberg released the following statement, again in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while paying some lip-service to those who might be most negatively impacted by the pipeline:

“The Keystone Pipeline project will create real jobs, help bolster economic growth and provide national energy security. It’s unfortunate this pipeline has been delayed, but I’m glad the federal bureaucracy is finally beginning to move. I’m going to hold their feet to the fire and make sure this deadline is met. It’s time to stop delaying economic recovery….In expressing my support for this project, it should be noted that I’ve encouraged TransCanada to work with landowners in a manner that does not impose condemnations of private property. Agriculture will continue to be the backbone of eastern Montana’s economy, and TransCanada must make every effort to respect property rights and ensure that stringent emergency plans are in place should an accident occur.”

To be perfectly honest, it appears as if Senator Baucus and Senator Tester are taking a somewhat similar approach to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Basically they always appear to be supportive of the pipeline, while going on record expressing some concerns about property rights, environmental impact and emergency plans. For example, in this statement from August 2011 Baucus supports the pipeline:

“I’m pleased to see the Keystone project clear this important hurdle because the pipeline will support Montana jobs and help ease our dependence on Middle-East oil. I am currently reviewing the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement and will continue to keep a close eye on the process to make sure safety and stewardship of our natural resources remain top priorities. The bottom line is we must get serious about an energy policy that puts America in the driver’s seat while bringing much-needed jobs to Montana.”

In fact, last September, Sen Baucus urged “the U.S. Department of State to expedite a permit by TransCanada to create its Keystone XL pipeline.”

Yet, a few months earlier he wrote Ray LaHood, the US Sec of Transportation stating, “I support the Keystone XL Pipeline. However, I am very concerned that the conditions proposed in the special permit application do not take critical steps to protect Montana’s citizens and resources…I urge you to take steps to ensure that the Keystone XL Pipeline take appropriate steps to protect Montanans and our natural resources.”

Seems to me that calling for an “expedited permit” for the Keystone XL pipeline just forty days after being “very concerned” that the permit “does not take critical steps to protect Montana’s citizens and resources” might be considered a perfect example of a politician talking out of both sides of their mouth.

While it appears as if Senator Tester didn’t release a press statement following the August 26, 2011 US State Department approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, he did send this letter on August 17, 2011 to Secretary of State Clinton. In the August letter, Senator Tester mentions that in March 2011 he “expressed my conditional support for the Keystone XL Pipeline” while he also “outlined a number of safety and private property concerns that I believe must be in place before a pipeline is issued a Presidential Permit.”

These safety concerns are relate to: requiring a publicly available Oil Spill Response Plan, incorporating additional requirements from independent pipeline safety organizations, ensuring a consistent thickness and quality of steel for the pipeline, and requesting a schedule of on-the-ground, aerial and in-line inspections. Regarding the property rights of Montana farmers and ranchers who would have their lands impacted, Senator Tester mentions that “landowners should be fairly compensated through an honest and transparent process.”

To be certain, these are all decent concerns for Senator Tester to bring up and he deserves some credit for doing so in a way that appears to go beyond what Schweitzer, Rehberg or Baucus are willing to do.

It looks as if last week the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group (NPPLG), a committee of the Northern Plains Resource Council, and 34 landowners crossed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline wrote Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper, asking him to accommodate safety requirements sought by Senator Tester for the Keystone XL pipeline. However, it also should be pointed out that Senator Tester ended his August 17, 2011 letter to Sec Clinton with this statement:

“I believe that the Keystone XL pipeline holds substantial potential to promote Montana’s energy economy with the construction of the Marketlink Project, the oil on-ramp in Baker, Montana. This project can be an important part of promoting America’s energy security. However, the pipeline must be constructed and monitored carefully in order to protect all of Montana’s crucial industries, including agriculture, tourism, and the energy industry itself. For these reasons, I urge you to incorporate our best technical requirements so we can confidently secure America’s energy future without jeopardizing our economic or environmental quality.”

Finally, while each member of the Montana congressional delegation has found out a way to essentially support the Keystone XL Pipeline, while also bringing up some concerns, they have also managed to talk about the pipeline with words and phrases such as “jobs,” “secure America’s energy future” or “provide national energy security.” Clearly these types of phrases make for good political rhetoric in 2011; however, is there much truth to the notion that the Keystone XL Pipeline will increase US energy security?

Just last week a new report (download pdf) from Oil Change International called Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed was released. Here’s a snip from the intro:

“In pushing for the Obama Administration’s approval of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the North American oil industry and its political patrons argue that the pipeline is necessary for American energy security and its construction will help wean America of dependence on Mideast oil. But a closer look at the new realities of the global oil market and at the companies who will profit from the pipeline reveals a completely different story: Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but rather transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets.”

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