- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - State regulators a dismissed request Tuesday to throw out an application for the South Dakota portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up a decision as early as next month from the Public Utilities Commission on whether to re-approve the embattled project.

Pipeline opponents argued before the panel that President Barack Obama killed the project in November, which should put an end to the proceedings in South Dakota. But an attorney for TransCanada Corp., the company behind the proposed pipeline, said the company remains committed to the project, which could be revived under the next president.

TransCanada’s proposed pipeline would go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It would move about 100,000 barrels of oil daily from the western North Dakota oil patch.

The PUC held hearings during the summer in its review of whether to approve - for the second time in more than five years - the construction of the pipeline through South Dakota. A decision is still forthcoming.

The project had prompted opposition from Native American tribes, some landowners and environmental groups that were concerned the pipeline would contaminate water supplies and contribute to pollution.

Opponents, who have lauded Obama’s decision, put forward the legal argument that the company would have to start from the beginning with a new application for a new project.

“What I find remarkable about the position that TransCanada is taking is that it seems to embody a lack of recognition of reality, that this project is, for all practical purposes, dead,” said Robin Martinez, an attorney with opposition group Dakota Rural Action.

Supporters argue that the pipeline would be a boon for the country and will create construction jobs and boost tax collections in South Dakota. Despite Obama’s rejection, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling has said the company still wants to build the pipeline, attorney William Taylor said.

“The project has not been abandoned,” Taylor said. “TransCanada has not said this party is over. Rather, TransCanada has said, speaking with the voice of its chief executive officer, the company is absolutely committed to the project.”

The state initially authorized TransCanada’s project in 2010, but permits must be revisited if construction doesn’t start within four years. The commission is now considering the company’s guarantee that it can complete the project while meeting the conditions of the 2010 approval.

After dismissing opponents’ requests to block re-approval and revoke the underlying construction permit, Commission Chairman Chris Nelson said the panel could decide on the project at its January meeting.

“This has been an uphill battle for many years now for a lot of our Native communities and non-Native landowners,” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We’re not surprised by this decision, but we’re not dissuaded or discouraged about our next steps forward.”

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