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Friday, Apr 13, 2012, 12:23 pm

Nebraska Approves Keystone XL Bill

By Lindsey Kratochwill

The Keystone XL Pipeline this week received another boost when Nebraska lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve a bill re-launching a state review of the pipeline that President Barack Obama denied federal permits to in January. 

The bill--which opponents say amounts to a rubber stamp for TransCanada--allows state review of the project to continue, regardless of what goes on federally. The pipeline was set to cut through the Oglala aquifer, endangering the area’s water supply, though the new bill is expected to review a new route avoiding the aquifer. Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesperson, told Reuters that the legislation "puts the power for final route selection in Nebraska back in the hands of Nebraskans, regardless of what takes place at the federal level."

Despite intense opposition from environmentalists, the Keystone proposal has been kept alive largely by the interventions of lobbyists. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a model resolution in support of the legislation that has been introduced in state legislatures in Washington and Iowa. These model resolutions are drafted by anonymously within ALEC and made available for use by legistlators across the country. 

In Maine, lawmakers passed a resolution in late March to support the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. According to the Bangor Daily News, the discussion focused mostly on the price per gallon of gas and energy security. Senator Ronald Collins (R-York) reportedly said “everytime we buy oil from overseas, we’re supporting terrorists who want to kill us. We should tell the rest of the country that Maine is behind this.”

The resolution passed, but other legislators in Maine thought the state had no place in getting involved in such a debate, noting that the resolution sounded very similar to another that the ALEC had drafted. 

Last week, Representative Connie Mack (R-Fla.) launched a petition at a Miami gas station in support of constructing Keystone XL.

Mack blamed the high gas prices on the president and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), for their unwillingness to approve the pipeline, but the question remains whether Floridians will buy into the stunt. The Miami Herald reported:

But the only man who signed the petition, gas station owner Michael Mendez, didn’t sound so sure about what the pipeline would do or how much Obama or Nelson were to blame for the costs of oil, which Mendez said was a global issue.

“These gas prices, to me, it doesn’t matter who’s in office,” Mendez said. “Gas prices always go up throughout the year. And then it’s going to come down. And then everyone’s not going to say anything for a little while.”

Still, Mendez said, the petition is “better than doing nothing.”

Since his stint in Miami, Mack has traveled to other gas stations around Florida, including Orlando and his hometown of Fort Meyers.

Opponents to the pipeline maintain that because the oil it carries to refineries is expected to be exported for overseas consumption, it would have no effect on gas prices domestically. According to The Hill:

Energy experts say there is little federal policymakers can do to lower gasoline prices, as they are tethered to oil prices, which are set on world markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little effect on prices, they say. 

The National Resource Defense Council likewise says that "there is no credible evidence [...] that gas prices would decline if Keystone XL was constructed."

Regardless, House Republicans are taking note of the high gas prices and seeming support from Nebraska legislature, adding language that supports approval of the pipeline to another 90-day extension of the federal transportation funding. The current bill is set to run out on June 30, three months after its March 30 approval by Congress.  

Lindsey Kratochwill, an In These Times editorial intern, is student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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