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Put politics aside to protect the Ogallala Aquifer
Nebraska Republicans aren't known for opposing big business, so it is noteworthy that Gov. Dave Heineman called on President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The line would carry heavy, gunky Canadian tar-sands oil to refineries in Oklahoma or Illinois and eventually to Texas.
The company building the pipeline, which has gotten Nebraska politicians in hot water with its campaign contributions, already operates the Keystone 1 pipeline, but it skirts the Ogallala Aquifer's east edge on the way through the state.
As Heineman points out, 254 miles of the pipeline would lie directly on top of the Great Plains' biggest resource, an underground reservoir of fresh water that provides water to more than 8.5 million acres of cropland through 92,685 registered, active irrigation wells.
The move puts Heineman in league with senator and former governor Ben Nelson, who blocked the forcing of a low-level nuclear waste dump on the Cornhusker state, and former governor and senator Bob Kerrey, who sent state troopers to the border to block the transfer of high-level nuclear fuel through the state.
No action a governor takes is without political implications, however, and this one is no different.
Sen. Ben Nelson responded by telling the political blog, Nebraska Watchdog, that "what the governor is suggesting is illegal. The state makes the routing decisions. The governor needs to stop playing politics and decide where he wants the pipeline route to be."
Nelson and other critics point out that the final Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. State Department includes the following: "Individual states have the legal authority to approve petroleum pipeline construction in their states, including selecting the routes for such pipelines. Different states have made different choices in how or whether to exercise that authority. Some states, such as Montana, have chosen to grant the authority to a state agency to approve pipeline routes through that state. Other states, such as Nebraska, have chosen not to grant any state agency such authority."
Heineman told the same blog, "I don't have any doubts (on) this one. There is no regulatory process in place on the State of Nebraska that allows me to make that decision." He's resisted calls to call the Legislature into session to deal with the issue.
Whatever the process, now is the time to protect this vital resource. And, judging from the record of the Keystone 1, which critics say was built with inferior foreign pipe, such measures are definitely warranted.
Since the Keystone 1 pipeline began operation in June 2010, it has had 12 spills. Some of them were small; a couple of gallons at Carpenter, five gallons at Freeman, both in South Dakota; but there was also 50 barrels -- 2,100 gallons -- spilled in Bendena, Kansas, and 500 barrels, 21,000 gallons, in Brampton, North Dakota.
McCook residents know how far a little oil can go -- we had to abandon a four million gallon water storage tank because of a long-term diesel leak from the railroad, and there have been numerous leaks along B Street and elsewhere from rusting underground fuel tanks at old gas stations.
The state's leadership needs to put politics aside and find a way to ensure no oil finds its way into the Ogallala Aquifer.