Lee Terry prevails with quicker Keystone XL plan

Published Tuesday, July 26, 2011: By Art Hovey, LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

The House of Representatives voted 279-147 on Tuesday to require State Department action on the Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1.

The outcome late Tuesday afternoon produced a rare split in the voting patterns of 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln and 2nd District Congressman Lee Terry of Omaha.

Fortenberry voted against a bill offered by Republican counterpart Terry that would set a deadline for determining if the $7 billion project is in the national interest.

Terry, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants something more than promises from the State Department that it will act on a Keystone XL permit by the end of the year.

"The more we delay this decision, the more reliant we become on oil from countries in the Middle East," he said in a statement released after the vote.

"This bill means less reliance on foreign oil, more jobs, and an energy policy that doesn't rely on less-than-friendly foreign nations," he added. "We cannot afford any more delay."

Fortenberry, meanwhile, favors what he describes as "a thorough environmental review process" and opposes having that review "artificially cut short by Congress."

He underscored that stance in a Tuesday statement. "Haste is not necessary," he said, "and may rob us of important facts."

Nebraska 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith sided with Terry, saying the continued uncertainty directly impacts his constituents.

"Obviously the integrity of the pipeline and protection of our resources are of the utmost importance, but the State Department has the necessary information to fulfill its responsibility and should make a timely decision," Smith said in a statement.

The proposed pipeline has generated strong opposition among landowners in Nebraska along the Sandhills portion of its route and also from advocacy groups worried about erosion and contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer.

At the same time, business interests and construction workers in Terry's district have said the project would provide a major jobs boost at a time when the economy is lagging.

Just last week, the State Department said action by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or her designee was likely by Nov. 15.

That leaves room for a 90-day review of the final environmental impact statement, expected to emerge next month, by the Environmental Protection Agency and other vested interests in the executive branch.

Terry's timetable could cut that short.

Earlier Tuesday, Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute saw no problem with quicker action on TransCanada's plan for connecting the oil sands of Alberta with the refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"It's gone through thorough review," Durbin said in a conference call with reporters, "and we're now coming up on three years" since TransCanada sought federal approval. "There's been every opportunity for all concerned to provide comments along the way here."

Ken Winston, spokesman for the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club, said Fortenberry was on the right side "and representing the interests of people in Nebraska -- and actually the long-term interests of the people of the United States, people who care about agriculture and fresh water and the Ogallala Aquifer."

Both Durbin and Winston addressed a July 1 incident in which an Exxon pipeline ruptured in Montana and spilled an estimated 40,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River.

Flooding on the Yellowstone and scouring out of the river bottom may have been a factor in that incident.

"Any spill is too much," Durbin said, "and we're always striving to keep that from happening in the first place. We've got an industry that's committed to always improving on that record, and this pipeline gives us an opportunity to do that again."

Winston said what happened in Montana is one more reason for careful federal scrutiny prior to acting on a permit.

"The recent flooding in and around Nebraska has shown the power of the forces of nature," he said, "and the huge spill in the Yellowstone River has shown that floods can have an effect on these oil pipelines."


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