WASHINGTON -- The governor of Nebraska on Tuesday approved a revised route through the state for the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up a decision for President Barack Obama that pipeline opponents say will be a crucial test of his intentions on climate change.
Gov. Dave Heineman, reversing an earlier position and brushing aside vocal opposition from some citizen groups, said the pipeline could be built and operated safely and would bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to Nebraska.
The decision came a day after Mr. Obama made an assertive pledge in his inaugural address to tackle climate change in his second term. Opponents of the pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil from tar sands formations in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast, say that the extraction and consumption of the oil would significantly worsen global warming and perpetuate the nation's dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
Mr. Heineman, a Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that his state's review found that the new route avoided sensitive lands and aquifers. Mr. Obama rejected the previous route last January on the grounds that construction of the pipeline threatened Nebraska's Sand Hills region and that a spill could contaminate the critical Ogallala Aquifer.
Mr. Heineman said the pipeline's operator, TransCanada, had assured him and state environmental officials that the chances of a spill would be minimized and that the company would assume all responsibility for a cleanup in case of an accident.
The State Department, which must review the 1,700-mile pipeline because it crosses an international border, is in the final stages of preparing an environmental-impact statement on the project.
TransCanada's chief executive, Russell Girling, said Washington should now follow Nebraska's lead.
"Keystone XL is the most studied cross-border pipeline ever proposed," Mr. Girling said in a statement, "and it remains in America's national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the agency would not complete its review of the project before the end of March.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is a strong advocate of the project. He applauded Nebraska's action, saying it removed a critical hurdle to the completion of the pipeline.
Opposition to the project has been fiercer in Nebraska than in any of the other states along the route.