With Report, Keystone XL Pipeline Clears Big Hurdle
Approval or denial of the Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to have an impact on the rate of extraction of heavy-carbon tar sands oil in Canada, according to a highly anticipated State Department review released Friday.
The release of the review now triggers a 90-day federal process for determining if the project is in the nation’s interest, and adds a fresh dimension to the debate over the pipeline.
With the release of the final environmental impact study, President Obama — who previously said that climate impact would be “absolutely critical” to his decision on Keystone — should now back the project that would bring oil from the tar sands of northwest Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, supporters of the controversial pipeline say.
Congressional Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor groups all have been particularly vocal supporters of the pipeline.
“The Keystone XL Pipeline is the single largest shovel-ready project in America, ready to go, but for years President Obama and his hard-left allies have stalled these jobs in a maze of red tape,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “But if the president meant what he said this week about ‘a year of action,’ he’ll act now on this important project that won’t cost taxpayers a dime to build but will bring thousands of private-sector jobs to Americans who desperately need them.”
A 2011 State Department report concluded that several thousand temporary construction jobs would be created by construction, in addition to a few dozen permanent jobs associated with operating the pipeline.
Opponents of the project say the pipeline would have a devastating impact on the environment and are keeping up their call on Obama to reject it.
“I will not be satisfied with any analysis that does not accurately document what is really happening on the ground when it comes to the extraction, transport, refining and waste disposal of dirty, filthy tar sands oil,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. “My biggest concerns continue to be the serious health impacts on communities, and the dangerous carbon pollution that comes from tar sands oil.”
“The State Department is asking us to believe this pipeline is in the national interest,” said Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., “How can a pipeline that ships Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, that does nothing to increase our energy independence, and that will deal irreparable damage both to our landscapes and our air quality possibly meet that definition?”
Obama rejected an attempt by Republicans before the 2012 election to get him to approve the pipeline more rapidly.
At that time, Republicans tried to force his decision by attaching a provision in legislation for a short-term extension to the payroll tax cut that required him to either issue a permit to allow the pipeline to be built or explain why it was not in the national interest.
Obama said at that time he was rejecting the project because the arbitrary deadline prevented the State Department from properly weighing the impact of the project.
State is overseeing the review, because the pipeline crosses an international border, but Obama is expected to weigh heavily in the ultimate decision if the pipeline is built or not.
On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner , R-Ohio, said allowing the project, which was initially proposed in 2008, to continue to languish is “economic malpractice.” He called on Obama to quickly approve it.
“Middle-class families and small businesses continue to struggle in this economy, and the president’s refusal to back this job-creating project is hurting our economy,” Boehner said.
A draft impact study released last March angered environmentalists by saying Keystone won’t matter much, because Canada’s tar sands will likely be extracted with or without it.
In a June speech that environmentalists applauded, Obama said he would only approve the pipeline if it does not substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Opponents of the pipeline have kept up pressure on Obama to reject the pipeline. One group led by major Democratic donor Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate Action, even ran national television ads this week calling the pipeline a “sucker punch to America’s heartland.”
“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to be briefed on the report, and there is no time line for him to deliver his recommendation to Obama on whether the pipeline should be approved or rejected, said Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs.
After the release of the report, Jones cautioned that no final decision has been made.
“This is not a document that deals with approving or denying,” Jones said. “This is a technical document that lays out a lot of different scenarios that will inform the decision maker who will be looking broadly at a number of different issues.”