By JAMES NORD
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - State regulators approved again on Tuesday the portion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would go through South Dakota, despite the project’s stalled status at the federal level.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission’s decision also hinges on a requirement that TransCanada Corp. get a presidential permit for the project. President Barack Obama blocked the pipeline in November, but it could be revived under the next administration.
South Dakota’s decision “further strengthens” the company’s commitment to the project, and TransCanada is evaluating its options despite the “unjustified denial” of its application by the Obama administration, spokesman Mark Cooper said in a statement.
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 project has prompted opposition from Native American tribes, some landowners and environmental groups that were concerned the pipeline would contaminate water supplies and contribute to pollution.
John Harter, a Tripp County landowner whose property would be crossed by the pipeline, said the decision is “basically just leaving me hanging” since TransCanada doesn’t have a presidential permit to move forward with the project.
Opponents of the pipeline, who have lauded Obama’s decision, had previously argued that the company would have to start from the beginning with a new application for a new project. The Public Utilities Commission rejected that thinking last month.
The state authorized the pipeline in 2010, but permits must be revisited if construction doesn’t start within four years. The commission voted to accept the company’s guarantee that it can complete the project while meeting the conditions of the 2010 approval.
Robin Martinez, an attorney with organization Dakota Rural Action, said the group is “seriously considering” an appeal to the courts.
Supporters say the pipeline would be a boon for the country and would create construction jobs in South Dakota. It’s also a safer way to transport oil than by rail, said Sam Mickelson, whose Meade County land is part of the pipeline’s proposed route.
Mickelson said the pipeline would also bring in tax revenues for South Dakota. Opponents discount economic arguments.
“The property taxes, the number of jobs, cannot be compared to or equal the devastation it will cause,” said Paula Antoine, chair of opposition group Oyate Wahacanka Woecun.