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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

South Dakota Still Wants Keystone XL Pipeline

PIERRE, S.D. (CN) - President Obama said no to the Keystone XL Pipeline, but South Dakota is still saying yes, and agreed this week to renew TransCanada's permit to cross the state.

The state's Public Utilities Commission made the decision at its Monday meeting.

Much of the TransCanada/Keystone XL Pipeline has already been built. The newest proposed section would run from Alberta to Nebraska, through 1,179 miles of Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Controversy has delayed the section for almost as long as Obama has been in office.

The PUC approved a permit for the pipeline in June 2010, but because more than four years passed without construction beginning, it was required to confirm that Keystone would honor the conditions - such as frequent communication with the PUC and adherence to state and federal laws - set out in the original permit.

"The validity of Keystone XL's certification has been thoroughly vetted. There has been no evidence provided that shows TransCanada Keystone XL will be unable to meet the requirements of the permit," Commissioner Gary Hanson said in a statement Monday. "If the company secures a presidential permit and the pipeline is built, the PUC will monitor the progress to ensure the construction conditions are met."

TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper told Courthouse News: "This decision in South Dakota further strengthens our commitment to Keystone XL, the safest and most environmentally sound way to transport needed Canadian and American oil to the people of the United States. Keystone XL was a good project for South Dakotans in 2010 and it remains an even better project today."

The project cannot proceed without presidential approval, however, and on Nov. 6, 2015 Obama announced his opposition to the pipeline , saying it would "undercut" the U.S. leadership role in addressing climate change and that it would not substantially contribute to the economy.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard expressed his disappointment almost immediately: "By halting the Keystone Pipeline the president is eliminating an opportunity for America to be more reliant on trusted North American friends and less reliant on oil producers from other places - many of whom do not respect nor share our values," the Republican governor said.

TransCanada's Cooper called the presidential denial "unjustified." The company sued the United States on Wednesday in Houston Federal Court, calling Obama's move an unlawful executive action.

Not all South Dakotans are on board with the governor and the PUC. Native American tribes, environmental groups and landowners were granted intervenor status to voice their opposition to the pipeline.

"TransCanada's performance with existing pipelines demonstrates that the PUC must closely scrutinize safety claims and promises to landowners. There have been at least 14 spills of dangerous tar sands crude from TransCanada's existing Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension," intervenors wrote in a July 6 letter to the PUC.

"In the face of this dismal record, TransCanada consistently downplays the possibility of a significant oil spill in South Dakota, putting our land and water in jeopardy. Documents that intervenors have been able to obtain demonstrate that TransCanada is unprepared for an adequate emergency response in the event of a release of tar sands crude in rural South Dakota."

A divided PUC issued a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline , which runs from North Dakota to Illinois and does not require presidential approval, in December 2015 despite similar objections.

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