The controversial 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline was approved for the third time by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, a day before the pipe's route was altered to avoid key lands slated for conservation.
Along with a 90-day extension of federal transportation funding, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 also contained language authorizing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the Keystone pipeline.
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, citing environmental concerns related to the path of the pipeline.
But TransCanada, the company charged with constructing the pipeline, sought to ease these concerns by submitting a proposal to re-route the pipeline to avoid an environmentally-sensitive aquifer in the state of Nebraska. Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Spokesman Brian McManus confirmed the new proposal Thursday.
Under the old plan, the underground Ogallala Aquifer, which provides most of Nebraska with its drinking water, would be directly crossed by the pipeline. Key Nebraska lawmakers, including Governor Dave Heineman, have concerns any leak or burst in the pipeline could contaminate the drinking water for the entire state.
However, environmentalists noted the re-routed plan proposed Thursday still has the pipeline passing over the aquifer.
"The new route TransCanada has identified through Nebraska still crosses the sensitive Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of drinking water for 2 million people and supporter of $20 billion in agriculture in the Midwest," Friends of the Earth Federal Dirty Fuels Campaigner Kim Huynh told RTTNews.
"It would still carry the world's dirtiest oil and threaten our heartland with toxic and costly spills," she added.
The Keystone XL project would transport Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta to delivery points in Oklahoma and Texas, the U.S. State Department website says.
Supporters say it would both lessen the United States' dependence on foreign oil while adding pipeline construction jobs to the economy.
Although President Obama has threatened to veto any bill authorizing Keystone, last month he approved the southern portion of the pipeline and said he is in support of the Oklahoma-Gulf portion while being opposed to the full project.
This move angered the environmental lobby, a key group that has supported Obama in past elections.
"The President cannot have it both ways," Huynh told RTTNews.
Democrats opposed to the bill passed Wednesday said pipeline supporters are not gaining traction on the issue.
"[The Republicans] have passed a lot of things through the House that haven't gone anywhere. I have a feeling this may be among those," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said, according to Politico.
The bill passed with bipartisan support 293 to 127, but environmental groups such as the Friends of the Earth told RTTNews the vote was simply more "political theater."
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by RTT Staff Writer
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