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 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 had found in its review 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 a supplemental environmental impact statement on the project. An earlier version found that it would have minimal adverse effects along its route.
TransCanada's chief executive, Russell K. 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."
Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the agency would not complete its review of the project before the end of March.
The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, is a strong advocate of the project. He applauded Nebraska's action, saying it removed a critical hurdle to the completion of the pipeline.
"Nebraska's approval of a new Keystone XL pipeline route means there is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further," Mr. Boehner said in a statement. "He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security."
Opposition to the project has been fiercer in Nebraska than in any of the other states along the route, in part because of the ecological value of the Sand Hills and in part because residents organized early to oppose the land acquisitions required for the rights of way.
Those groups are challenging the state's review process in court, and on Tuesday they were harshly critical of the governor's decision.
"Heineman turned his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline," said Jane Kleeb, the leader of Bold Nebraska, a group opposed to the project. She said her group was organizing a protest outside the Governor's Mansion in Lincoln next Tuesday. "The fight continues, even though Governor Heineman sided with a foreign corporation today and turned his back on our water and property rights."
A coalition of national environmental groups including the Sierra Club and 350.org have called on Mr. Obama to kill the project, saying it would bring a rapid expansion of tar sands mining and greatly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
"The latest pipeline review still ignores the biggest impact of Keystone XL: climate change," said May Boeve, the executive director of 350.org, an environmental advocacy group. "The tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL is the dirtiest form of fuel on the planet, and burning it would have a devastating effect on our climate."
She said the group was planning a large rally in front of the White House on Feb. 17 to urge the president to reject the pipeline.
"The decision is now firmly on President Obama's desk," Ms. Boeve said. "Approving Keystone XL would make a mockery of the commitment he made at the inauguration to take action on climate change."
Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.science
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.