The governor who helped block a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline now says he's supports the project.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman gave a green light Tuesday to a revised route for the pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil to refineries around Houston, Texas. The decision removes a significant obstacle in the path towards realizing the controversial project.
President Barack Obama, fresh off an inaugural address calling for bold action on climate change, will have the final say. He is expected to announce a decision sometime in early 2013.
Mr. Heineman's stance, expressed in a letter to the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, marks a change of heart for the governor.
In 2011, Heineman asked President Barack Obama to reject a permit for the pipeline, saying it would threaten a vital water source. The initial plan called for the pipeline to cross substantial areas of the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast, shallow, underground water supply that the governor called "the lifeblood of Nebraska’s agriculture industry."
Heineman called for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to study a new route proposed for the pipeline. Earlier this month, that study concluded the construction and operation of the pipeline would result in "minimal environmental impacts."
The new route still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, but bypasses Nebraska's fragile Sand Hills, according to the report. The impacts of any oil release "should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup," the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality report found.
Construction of the pipeline would provide a $418.1 million economic boost, according to the report.
In his letter of approval Tuesday, Heineman cited the study's results as impetus for backing the project.
TransCanada, the company behind the project, welcomed the governor's announcement.
"[T]oday’s approval of the Nebraska re-route by Governor Heineman moves us one step closer to Americans receiving the benefits of Keystone XL – the enhanced energy security it will provide and the thousands of jobs it will create," Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
In his second inaugural address Monday, President Obama made a bold endorsement for clean energy, making no mention of oil, gas or the "all-of-the-above" approach to energy he has touted in the past. Environmentalists embraced the message, saying that blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would help fulfill his goal of slowing climate change.
"[E]ven if the President is sincere in every syllable, he's going to need lots of backup to help him get his point across in a city dominated by fossil fuel interests," wrote Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental campaign 350.org, in a blog post Monday. "If you're serious about protecting future generations from climate change," he added in a message aimed at the president, "stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline."
Before making a final decision, President Obama will also review an analysis of the proposed pipeline by the US State Department, expected in the coming days or weeks.