Massive Oil Spill Not Expected to Influence Nebraska's Decision on Keystone XL
UPDATE: The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to approve the mainline alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state. The commission rejected TransCanada's preferred route.
In her dissent, commission member Chrystal Rhoades said she was against the pipeline regardless of the route.
The Washington Post reported:
She said that the pipeline was not in the state's public interest, that jobs would not go to Nebraskans, that it would create "significant burdens" on landowners whose use of the pipeline corridor would be limited, and that she was still worried about the environmental impact.
"All human-made infrastructure degrades and fails over time," she wrote. "No infrastructure ever designed has lasted for eternity and there is no reason to believe this pipeline will be an exception." Rhoades acknowledged that the commission was not supposed to weigh the risks of spills, but she said the state's Department of Environmental Quality had included it in the record.
Pipeline opponents will likely challenge the decision in court.
Nebraska regulators will announce Monday whether pipeline operator TransCanada can build its proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline across the state. The decision is the last regulatory hurdle for the highly contested $8 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission will not factor in Thursday's 210,000-gallon spill from Transcanada's Keystone Pipeline, which leaked thousands of gallons of highly polluting tar sands oil on South Dakota farmland. That's because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility. Under a 2011 state law, the Public Service Commission is not allowed to factor in pipeline safety or spill risks. Rather, the five-member commission will decide on whether the pipeline's route is in the interests of the state of Nebraska.
"The commission's decision ... will be based on the evidence in the record," spokeswoman Deb Collins said on Friday.
But as Doug Hayes, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program, pointed out to The Hill: "It's hard to believe they won't hear about this massive spill. It's one of the biggest concerns to Nebraskans."
The Commission is weighing whether to permit construction of the KXL, which will move more than 800,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast via connecting pipelines. The pipeline will run through a dozen Nebraska counties.
However, as the Associated Press noted, the commission's choice is not just between a simple yes or no.
The commission could simply agree to TransCanada's “preferred route," but there are other options as well. They could also tweak the route, which would add years to the project's timeline, or choose between the company's "alternative" routes.
Nebraska Public Service Commission
And even if the commission outright denies the permit request, TransCanada has 60 days to revise and resubmit its proposal for another review under state law.
Finally, any group that presented arguments during the August hearings could appeal the commission's decision to a state district court.
Environmental groups have long battled against the proposed tar sands project, over fears it would lock in decades of increased climate pollution. A peer-reviewed study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that extracting and refining oil sands crude from Canada produces 20 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the same process for conventional American crude, Newsweek reported in 2015.
As the KXL's proposed route crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, a major underground deposit of fresh water, a spill could threaten waterways and drinking water sources.
Opponents also cite the potential contamination and destruction of Native American land.
In March, President Trump overturned President Obama's rejection of the KXL by signing an executive order to advance the project forward. Trump said that doing so would boost construction jobs but critics noted that it would only create 35 permanent jobs.
Native leaders, tribal council members, rural landowners, non-Native supporters and their allies are already gathering in South Dakota Monday morning to await the commission's decision. They will issue a response during a press conference immediately after the announcement. The press conference will be live-streamed here at 11:15 a.m. CT.
The gathering will also feature the signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred against the pipeline and tar sands.
“Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin Lands," said Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation. “If anything it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock."
“It's clear that the Trump administration, through its dirty energy policies, is intent on destroying our homelands with no regard to any group; we are all seen as dispensable, taxable, and voiceless," she said. “The Native vote is the swing vote in South Dakota. Native and non-Natives are rising up for now, for the future and certainly for the coming elections."
EcoWatch will update this post with the Public Service Commission's announcement. Stay tuned.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.