Last Friday, TransCanada submitted a new application for a presidential permit for the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada’s new application will be supplemented with an alternative route through Nebraska, once it has been selected and approved by the state. Nebraska’s environmental review of the alternate route, which will avoid traversing the Sand Hills which lie above the Ogallala Aquifer, is estimated to take at least another six months.

The U.S. Department of State will hire an independent third-party contractor to assist in reviewing and analyzing the new route, and it will draw upon existing analysis as appropriate. The Department of State noted, when it announced review of alternate routes through Nebraska late last year, that its best estimate on completing the national interest determination for the pipeline, as mandated by Executive Order 13337, was the first quarter of 2013 - postponing a final decision until after the fall elections.

As referenced in our last edition, the House recently approved an amendment to its surface transportation bill mandating FERC approval of the Keystone XL pipeline within 30 days. House and Senate conferees on the surface transportation legislation will begin meeting this week to reconcile the two chambers’ versions of the transportation legislation, and, since the White House has threatened to veto the bill over the Keystone provision, addressing this issue will be key in determining how both the pipeline and the larger bill go forward.