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Keystone XL Pipeline Rejected, Indians Say Fight Continues

Citing a lack of time to review the Keystone XL Pipeline expansion through the United States, the federal government has rejected the plan.

WASHINGTON – Citing a lack of time to review the Keystone XL Pipeline expansion through the United States, the federal government has rejected the plan.

The State Department, charged with overseeing transnational economic developments, confirmed the rejection on January 18. Officials there also made clear that the Obama administration will allow the company that owns the pipeline, TransCanada, to reapply for a permit to build through the U.S. after it develops an alternate route around Nebraska’s Sandhills.

“Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama added.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney noted in his daily press briefing on January 18 that Republican Congress members had inserted language into a bill before Christmas requiring a decision within 60 days, which, he noted, the State Department had already said was too short a time to study plans for an alternative route. The original route, through portions of Nebraska, was denied by the State Department on November 10. Officials there previously indicated they would need until 2013 to study alternative routes.

House Speaker John Boehner quickly hammered the decision, saying it would harm the American economy and prevent needed job growth. Many Republicans in Congress echoed Boehner’s position.

The 2013 deadline had earlier prompted cries that the Obama administration was playing a political game by trying to wait until after the 2012 presidential elections to make a decision, thereby not angering environmentalists and others who have staunchly opposed the pipeline altogether. Carney denied the political claims, saying that Republicans had tried to hijack a necessary review process that was intended to protect the health and safety of the American people.

The proposed 1,700-mile, $7 billion pipeline would have transported oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries in Texas. It would have passed through Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

American Indian activists have played a major role in protesting the pipeline, saying that it could harm the health and culture of tribal citizens living near the proposed pipeline. They have also cited a lack of consultation, and have pointed to negative consequences for their First Nations relatives in Canada who have already been impacted by pipeline developments there.

Indian protesters of the pipeline were largely pleased with the new rejection, but some said there was still a long fight ahead.

“An outright rejection by President Obama of the TransCanada application is the goal; this is a temporary victory—the oil industry will not give up its attempt to get their weapon of mass destruction approved for entry to this country,” said Lakota activist Debra White Plume in response to the development. “We must keep fighting, we must fight harder. If we say this is our Treaty Territory, we must be ready to defend it, we must be ready to defend our sacred water. Our love for Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) is strong, and our greatest weapon is prayer."

Pat Spears, president of Intertribal COUP, the Council On Utility Policy, in the Northern Plains, said that
Obama and the State Department deserve thanks for having the “foresight and courage” to reject the permit application for the pipeline.

“The inflated numbers of temporary imported jobs are far outweighed by the existing and potential environmental damages, particularly for water pollution in Canada and in the United States,” Spears said. “Rerouting the pipeline through Nebraska does not decrease the potential risk and liability for damages to tribal treaty lands and populations along the pipeline.”

Spears said that tribal citizens should be encouraged by the decision, and that they should ask for a more detailed risk analysis of both economic and environmental issues for all people impacted by the Keystone XL Pipelines.

“The current and further impacts to the health of the people and homelands of the Cree and Dine Nations and climate change must be included and valued in the economics of the export of foreign oil across the United States,” Spears added.

As for next steps, White Plume, who was arrested in September for peacefully protesting the pipeline at the White House, said she believes that TransCanada will definitely re-apply for a permit in the U.S. to create an expansion along a different route.

“[T]he pipeline is a billion dollar business endeavor to them, they will not give up,” White Plume said. “Our sacred water is life and death for us, we will not give up either.”