Pieces of the Keystone XL pipeline stored in North Dakota, photographed in November 2014, as TransCanada awaits project approval. The company has asked the U.S. State Department to suspend its review.

Keystone XL: Indigenous Opponents Call for Rejection Despite TransCanada Halt Request


Indigenous environmental leaders opposing TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline said that the company’s request for the U.S. government to “pause” its evaluation of the controversial project was nothing more than a political ploy ahead of the 2016 Presidential election.

“We see this as a last ditch effort for the TransCanada corporation to avoid a rejection of its presidential permit application and is a clear stall strategy that hopes for a supportive President from the 2016 elections,” said Indigenous Environmental Network Executive Director Tom Goldtooth in a statement on November 3. “This dirty tar sands pipeline has met immense organized resistance from the Dene and Cree First Nations and the Métis community at its source, through the traditional lands and territories of the Oceti Sakowin, also known as the Great Sioux Nation, and from the Ponca people of the southern Great Plains. The mobilization of tribal nations and the Native grassroots and youth, coupled with alliances with non-native landowners, helped the fight against Keystone XL pipeline become the marquee fight for the U.S. climate justice movement.”

TransCanada announced on Monday November 2 that it had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to halt its evaluation pending the resolution of legal issues in Nebraska over which route the pipeline should take.

“We are asking State to pause its review of Keystone XL based on the fact that we have applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of its preferred route in the state,” said TransCanada President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling in a statement. “I note that when the status of the Nebraska pipeline route was challenged last year, the State Department found it appropriate to suspend its review until that dispute was resolved. We feel under the current circumstances a similar suspension would be appropriate.”

The $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline system would carry 800,000 or more barrels per day of oil from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas. Numerous legal challenges and protests, as well as falling oil prices and cost overruns, have impeded the project for years.

In Nebraska, the process has been snagged by a legal battle over whether then Governor Dave Heineman had the authority to approve the route when he did so in 2013. Court challenges to his approval of the route and TransCanada’s right to exercise eminent domain over landowners along it resulted in a February 2014 ruling that the law allowing the move violated the state constitution.

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

In the decision, Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy said that the power to determine the route rests with the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

“TransCanada made the decision to apply to the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) following legal challenges in the state over the constitutionality of the statute under which Governor Heineman approved the route in 2013,” TransCanada said in its statement on November 2.

“It is anticipated that route approval by the PSC would take seven to 12 months to complete,” TransCanada wrote in its letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requesting the suspension of the review in the wake of its October 5 filing with the Nebraska commission.

Given that timeline TransCanada said, it would be “appropriate” to put the federal review on hold until the entire route is confirmed. But Keystone XL opponents said the pipeline should be rejected regardless of the company’s request.

“It’s important to note that TransCanada has no authority to suspend the federal government’s decision making process for Keystone XL,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. “TransCanada can only make a case to the State Department to delay its decision, and the case it makes is a poor one.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on November 2, just before TransCanada’s request, that President Barack Obama would make a decision before leaving office in January 2017. The White House did not comment after the company made its announcement, according to the Associated Press. Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton has gone on record opposing the pipeline, as have her same-party opponents, while Republicans support it, AP noted.

RELATED: Keystone XL: Hillary Clinton Opposes, Native Activists Guardedly Optimistic

Bold Nebraska, the anti–Keystone XL group at the forefront of opposition in that state, said the route issue was not new enough to be the company’s actual motivation, invoking tribal concerns as well.

“The route in Nebraska has been uncertain for years,” said Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb in a statement. “The only difference now is TransCanada knows they are about to have their permit rejected, so they are scrambling. President Obama can end all of this uncertainty with the stroke of a pen. It is time to reject and give farmers, ranchers and Tribal Nations peace of mind that their land and water is protected from this risky pipeline.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network reemphasized grassroots Native opposition to the pipeline project and its impingement on sacred places.

“Tribal Nations of the Oceti Sakowin have reiterated their opposition to the KXL pipeline in defense of their ancestral homelands, including but not limited to the territory of the Great Sioux Nation, as recognized in the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868,” Goldtooth said in the group’s statement. “Standing in solidarity with tribal governments and traditional treaty councils of the Oceti Sakowin, we ask the State Department to refuse TransCanada’s request to delay this application and ask President Obama to take the opportunity to reject this pipeline once and for all!”

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