Bill Clinton embraces Keystone XL - but did he ask Hillary?

When President Barack Obama first named  Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, there was a lot of concern about what role her husband would play behind the scenes or whether his work at his charitable foundation would lead to any conflict of interest. The Clintons have seemed to have succeeded in keeping their roles comfortably separate. So it is notable that the former president would weigh in on the Keystone XL pipeline issue at a time when the federal review process that leads to a recommendation of a presidential permit for the cross-border pipeline is run by his wife’s department.

Bill Clinton said to an energy conference this afternoon:

“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 [aquifer] with a different route, which I presume we’ll get now, because the extra cost of running is infinitesimal compared to the revenue that will be generated over a long period of time,” he said.

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

Like President Clinton, I have wondered why the proposed route went through the Sandhills of  Nebraska. In a recent interview, I posed that question to TransCanada. Spokesman Shawn Howard told me:

“There were 14 different route configurations examined. The original route was determined to have least environmental impact.” As for the Sandhills concerns:  “We knew we could build pipeline safely and we could put features that would give additional protections. It was the shortest route through the area and affected the fewest landowners.”

I also wondered why they didn’t simply amend the route once it became clear that there was a lot of opposition to building through the Sandhills. Here was Howard’s response:

“When you are in a legal process, you are allowed to move the route a couple of miles. That would be permissible. But we’re talking about having to re-route 100 miles of a new route, that’s not a minor change.  For all the groups and activists that were running around saying ‘Move the route!’ —  they didn’t understand the process. If we had made a major change like that, we would have had to start [the permit application] from the beginning because then you’re applying for a different route.”