President Obama may not have to veto the Keystone XL pipeline to stop the project.
This could be an issue where state power supersedes federal authority.
A Native American tribe in South Dakota that considers House approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to be an “act of war” and a reversal of state legislative permission by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, either together or by themselves, could be enough to undo plans to build the $5.4 billion project.
The House approved the Keystone XL pipeline proposal Nov. 14. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday.
Senate Democrats, who had been able to block the Keystone proposal, might change sides and make this a bipartisan win for TransCanada and Republicans if only to help the re-election effort of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
The Keystone XL pipeline would run across six states, including Nebraska and South Dakota, and 1,980 miles from the tar sands of Canada to the refineries of the Gulf Coast.
Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.) approved building the Keystone XL pipeline in his state in January 2013 following legislative approval.
The state’s Department of Environmental Quality signed off on the final agreement with the owner of the pipeline, TransCanada. But the state’s Public Service Commission was not consulted.
That prompted three landowners to file suit to challenge the approval process, and they won the most recent round in court.
A district court has ruled that Heineman’s approval was unconstitutional. That could mean the case will be heard by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The justices could decide if the Nebraska Public Service Commission will be brought back into the loop and in effect will make the final decision.
Steve Meradith, the executive director of the commission, declined to comment.
Nebraska is not the only state in which the Keystone XL proposal has run into a grass-roots revolt.
The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has granted approval for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline plans with 50 conditions attached.
Former Gov. Mike Rounds (R), elected to the Senate last week, is a longtime supporter of the Keystone XL project.
Rounds said in an October statement the Keystone debate was about more than energy. He said it was also an agricultural issue.
“The joyful feelings of a bountiful harvest are quickly replaced with a sense of frustration that this year’s grains are going to get piled on top of last year’s because there simply are not enough transportation options,” Rounds said in a statement. “Too many trains are tied up carrying the valuable oil from North Dakota to refineries in the South.”
However, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and other members of the Great Sioux Nation voted to oppose the 36-inch pipeline in February.
The proposed route of TransCanada’s project crosses directly through Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) Treaty lands as defined by both the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties and within the current exterior boundaries of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Cyril Scott, the president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, released a statement following the House vote Nov. 14 in which he pointed out the tribe had “done its part” to remain peaceful in its opposition to the pipeline proposal, even though the tribe had not been brought into the discussions by U.S. officials.
He did not outline any specific actions the tribe would take if work crews appeared on tribal land to start building the pipeline, but Scott’s statement was a warning of pending confrontation.
“The House has now signed our death warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe will not allow this pipeline through our lands,” said Scott.
“We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is not the only organization fighting plans for the 313 miles of the pipeline that would run through South Dakota.
Three other tribal nations and a number of Native American groups, each belonging to the Oceti Sakowin, the People of the Seven Councils or Sioux tribe, have petitioned to intervene.
Dakota Rural Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and several South Dakota landowners have also petitioned to intervene.
The pipeline would cut through Paul Seamans’ property in South Dakota. The chairman of Dakota Rural Action told KDLT-TV in Sioux Falls that TransCanada representatives started making offers for his land 6.5 years ago.
However, he felt like the “offer” was more of a “demand.” Seamans said TransCanada told him that if he didn’t sign, they could just take his land though the power of eminent domain.
“I’ve just never liked bullies and I feel that TransCanada has been bullying me, and that’s one of the main reasons I’m passionate about this,” Seamans said.
Another state resident told the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in October the pipeline should be stopped.
“At a time when North America is reeling from violent acts, we cannot forget about violent acts against the environment,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, of Ihanktonwan Protect the Sacred.
“Our water is already polluted and we are at a tipping point for destruction.”