The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to keep TransCanada’s hopes for the Keystone XL pipeline alive by validating its permit certification that expired in 2014.
Chris Nelson, the chair of the commission, concluded TransCanada could still meet all the conditions of its expired permit. The fact TransCanada was denied a needed presidential permit to cross international borders was not a reason to deny certification because the next president could grant it, the PUC chair said.
He stated that the lawyers representing the Intervenors – indigenous tribes, the grassroots group Dakota Rural Action, and individual landowners – did not make a case proving TransCanada was unable to meet any of the conditions required to build the pipeline, despite a nine-day hearing last summer at which Intervenors presented reams of evidence and allegations to the contrary.
“I can’t change that we have different world views,” Nelson said to his “Native American friends” before the vote was taken. He thanked the “natives” for explaining to him why they vehemently opposed the pipeline. His decision must be based on the law, not emotions, he told them.
After the decision was made, Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Oyate broke out in a protest war cry. She deemed the Keystone XL a “zombie pipeline.”
VIDEO: Joye Braun protests the decision to renew TransCanada’s Permit for the Keystone XL in South Dakota.
The hearings that the PUC based its decision on were marred with questionable actions from the start.
Lawyers for the Intervenors questioned the PUC’s impartiality before the hearing began. Many who wanted to testify against the permit renewal were unable to do so because they failed to meet deadlines for filing pre-trial testimony. And much of the evidence those who did pre-file testimony wanted to cite was precluded from the proceedings.
The Intervenors presented evidence that TransCanada has a proven track record of not following pipeline construction code, which included documents DeSmog obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request about an incident along the Keystone 1 line in 2012.
The Keystone 1 pipeline experienced an extreme corrosion event caused by the company’s failure to follow the construction code.
The incident was described by TransCanada as a “near miss” in an email obtained by DeSmog to regulators. The pipeline was dangerously close to rupturing and the proximity of the corrosion incident to the Missouri River and St. Louis could have resulted in contamination of the water source for millions of people.
At the end of November, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safely Administration (PHMSA) wrote a letter of probable violation to TransCanada, and fined the company $184,000 for code violations.
TransCanada is appealing PHMSA findings, but the company’s own root-causes analysis report supports PHMSA’s findings. And a National Academy of Sciences report makes clear that diluted bitumen is much more toxic than standard crude, and the industry has not figured out how to clean it up after a spill.
“I think they erred seriously in approving a permit in South Dakota based on the convoluted ‘pipe dream’ of TransCanada,” Gary Dorr, an Intervenor and member of the Nez Perce Tribe, one of the Intervenors, told DeSmog following the decision.
“The Commission’s decision was not unexpected, but it was still disappointing. The citizens of South Dakota should really be worried,” Robin Martinez, one of the Intervenors’ lawyers, wrote in an email to DeSmog.
“If their Public Utilities Commission is willing to green-light a project that was rejected by our federal government as not being in the national interest, what else are they willing to approve? With today’s decision, the next stage will involve the courts. It’s not over yet.”
The Intervenors will appeal.