Bill Clinton Supports New Keystone Route

February 29, 2012 Updated: February 29, 2012

Bill Clinton said Wednesday, that TransCanada should build its $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline along a new route but his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said a new application from TransCanada may not help to speed up the release of a presidential permit.

Speaking at an energy conference in Maryland, Clinton said a new route would avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska, and expressed surprise that TransCanada had chosen the fragile area in the beginning.

“One of the most amazing things to me about this Keystone pipeline deal is that they ever filed that route in the first place since they could’ve gone around the Nebraska Sandhills and avoided most of the dangers, no matter how imagined, to the Ogallala with a different route,” Clinton said in remarks reported by Politico and Bloomberg News.

“The extra cost of running [the pipeline around the Sandhills] is infinitesimal compared to the revenue that will be generated over a long period of time,” Clinton added.

“So, I think we should embrace it and develop a stakeholder-driven system of high standards for doing the work.”

Bill Clinton’s comments came as Secretary Clinton was in Congress defending her department’s decisions to decline TransCanada’s original proposal on the grounds of threats to the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer.

Speaking at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Secretary Clinton said Nebraska did not have the legislature to deal with the issue, which required more consideration than allowed for in the time set by Congress as part of the payroll tax agreement last year.

On a recommendation from the State Department, President Barack Obama in January decided to delay a decision on the permit until 2013, citing environmental concerns, particularly over the Nebraska route.

When told by Rep. Mack that her husband had said the Keystone pipeline should be built, Secretary Clinton said, “my husband is a very smart man” but added that he was no longer in a position to make those sort of decisions.

TransCanada announced this week that it intended to submit a new application for its proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would have the capacity to move 700,000 barrels of crude oil produced from northern Alberta tar sands to refineries in Texas.

During a senate foreign affairs committee hearing on Tuesday, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar asked Secretary Clinton how long she thought it would take to get an approval.

Secretary Clinton said she could not say, as a new application would require a new review process.

While the State Department would likely draw on some existing information, Clinton said she would need to see TransCanada’s application to make an assessment.

“Until we get an application and actually have a chance to study it, we won’t be able to provide information as to when a decision could be made,” she said.

Proposal Controversial

Environmental groups have taken a strong position against the Keystone pipeline, not only due to the ecologically sensitive Sandhills area in Nebraska, but also because of concerns of increased greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, forest destruction from Alberta’s oil sands projects, and fears that pipeline spills will pollute groundwater.

Sen. Lugar noted the controversy surrounding the pipeline and expressed Republican concerns that U.S. energy needs would be impacted at a time of uncertainty in the Middle East, and jobs would be lost by the delay.

Secretary Clinton noted that U.S. gas and oil production was increasing exponentially but said she shared Sen. Lugar’s concerns about U.S. energy, saying it was “a critical component of energy security going forward.”

“I believe we have to develop supplies everywhere,” she said.

Referring to the controversy surrounding the pipeline, Secretary Clinton said it was exactly the reason it was important to make a thorough assessment of the project before its approval.

“I do think your concerns, and concerns of others about the pipeline, both pro and con, suggest it is important the process follows the laws and regulations, because whatever the outcome is it is likely to be controversial, whatever way the decision is likely to be made,” she told the hearing.

TransCanada Starts Building

TransCanada announced last week that it would start building a portion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Cushing, Okla., through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, a process that does not require approval from the State Department.

The White House issued a statement supporting the project saying, “Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production.”

Republicans also welcomed TransCanada’s announcement but remain concerned the Keystone pipeline was too controversial for an election year and was delayed for political reasons.

The Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation on Feb 16. to force U.S. approval of the Keystone XL project.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said House Republicans would continue to pursue the legislation.

“The House has now voted three times to end the president’s delay, and we will continue to fight to see that the permit is approved and the pipeline is built,” he said in a statement.