Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Tribe performs a grass dance at fifth annual Ponca sacred corn planting ceremony on the Tanderups' farm near Neligh, Nebraska on June 10, 2018. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Keystone XL Pipeline advances despite incomplete surveys of tribal sites

Pre-construction activities on the Keystone XL Pipeline have already begun but the Trump administration just got around to releasing the "draft" environmental assessment for the controversial project.

The lengthy document, made public on Monday, indicates that tribal consultation is ongoing. And it states that surveys of cultural sites along the path in Nebraska have not yet been completed.

Despite the incomplete information, the environmental assessment claims the impacts will be "less than significant." Construction "might" affect cultural resources, it states, but "no permanent indirect adverse effects to cultural resources are anticipated."

With comments due in 30 days, critics accused the Trump administration of rushing through the environmental review process for the so-called Mainline Alternative Route in Nebraska.

“Landowners, tribal nations and everyday citizens will continue to fight the Trump administration’s illegal rubber-stamp of a permit for Keystone XL, and this illegal review that completely violated due process of affected landowners on the Mainline Alternative Route," Jane Kleeb, the founder of the Bold Nebraska activist group, said in a press release. "The only right thing to do, would be to reject Keystone XL again.”

A 10-foot tall, bronze statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear was erected October 15, 2017, along a plaza leading to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In 1879, Standing Bear convinced a federal judge to allow him to return to his homelands in northeast Nebraska, a decision that is today considered an important civil rights victory for Native Americans. Photo by Kevin Abourezk $ti

Even though cultural surveys aren't complete, the assessment acknowledges that the Mainline Alternative Route crosses the Ponca Trail of Tears in Seward County.

"This route was used for the forced removal of the Ponca Tribe from northern Nebraska in 1877," the document states.

The assessment also states that the pipeline comes within 25 miles of the grave of Standing Bear. He was the Ponca leader who refused to stay in Oklahoma and instead led some of his people back to their homelands in Nebraska.

It further notes that the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma recently reclaimed a parcel of land within the path of the pipeline. But the document does not offer any conclusions on what that might mean for the project.

TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, initiated pre-construction activities in this month and plans to continue through the fall, according to a letter sent to tribes earlier this month. Construction on the pipeline itself is expected in 2019, though an exact date has not been announced.

"You are not welcome on our treaty territory TransCanada," Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said after receiving a letter about the work.

The environmental assessment was released by the Department of State. Comments are due on August 29, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.

The assessment does not explain when or how tribal consultation is occurring. Two letters were sent to tribes, on April 1 and May 1, before tribes were informed, on May 24, of the intent to proceed with the environmental review.

Read More on the Story:
Report: Keystone XL would have minimal environmental impact on Nebraska (The Lincoln Journal Star July 30, 2018)
State Department draft says Keystone XL would have little effect on Nebraska's water, land (The Omaha World-Herald July 30, 2018)
Environmental study unveiled for Nebraska Keystone XL route (The Associated Press July 30, 2018)
Keystone XL's New Path Gets Positive U.S. Environment Review (Bloomberg July 30, 2018)
U.S. sees little impact from Keystone XL pipeline's planned route (Reuters July 31, 2018)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Availability of the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Mainline Alternative Route in Nebraska (July 30, 2018)

South Dakota Supreme Court Decision:

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