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South Dakota Keeps Keystone XL Permit Process Intact for May Hearings

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The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has turned down a request by four tribes and a host of opponents to send TransCanada back to the drawing board on its proposal to route the Keystone XL oil pipeline through the state.

TransCanada had originally been awarded the permit in 2010, and state law mandates that it be reapproved if construction does not start within four years. The January 6 ruling means the project remains on track, headed for hearings the first week in May.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe is at the forefront of the petition in South Dakota, joined by the Cheyenne River, Rosebud and Standing Rock tribes.

The company expressed approval of the outcome, and spokesperson Mark Cooper said that TransCanada was prepared to undergo “a thorough vetting of the issues that fall under the commission’s authority” at the May hearing, according to a statement quoted by the Associated Press.

The bottom line for American Indians is the environmental issues and tribal rights, said Matthew Rappold, attorney representing the Yankton Sioux, before the public utilities commission. It’s about “whether or not they’ve properly complied with all the federal laws regarding the tribal consultation and decision-making process,” Rappold told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The Texas portion is already built and carrying other oil, while the northern portion—including the section that would cross the international border with Canada, which President Barack Obama must approve—is pending the outcome of a State Department review, as well as some legal challenges including the one in South Dakota.

One of those was struck down on Thursday January 8 when the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out a challenge to the governor’s authority to approve the pipeline’s route through that state, the Los Angeles Timesreported. Opponents to the routing had won a previous incarnation of the lawsuit.

RELATED: Judge Cuts Down State Law Enabling Keystone XL Route Through Nebraska

The delay imposed by that lawsuit was one factor cited by the State Department in the time it is taking to hand down a decision. Also on Thursday the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would fast-track the project, legislation that the White House had vowed to veto. Neither the House nor the Senate, which could soon vote on a similar bill, has a veto-proof majority. Obama has said he wants to see the permit process wend its way through proper channels and that Congress should not be the branch of government moving such developments along.

Tribes, environmental advocates and even climate change scientists have stated unequivocally that developing the already hyper-industrialized Alberta oil sands further will exacerbate climate change and thus be harmful to life all over the planet.

RELATED: Alberta Oil Sands Deposits Must Be Left in Ground to Avoid Catastrophic Warming: Study

“Our common sense should inform us as to whether or not this is a good idea,” Rappold said. “And it seems to me the commonsense approach has been pretty much thrown out the window.”