Keystone XL Pipeline Clears Major Hurdle with Release of Final Environmental Study


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Keystone XL pipeline Friday passed a crucial milestone. The State Department’s final environmental impact study declared the huge project would not significantly add to greenhouse gas emissions.

But while the Keystone project alone wouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of oil production, the Obama administration is still concerned about the project’s impact on climate change and national security, one of the State Department’s top deputies on the project said Friday.

The State Department’s statement on the environmental impact of the pipeline is best summed up with one sentence:

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport  project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios.”

But if those criteria do change significantly, the rate of extraction could change accordingly, the report continues: “This estimated price threshold could change if supply costs or production expectations prove different than estimated in this analysis.”

But this is just one portion of the analysis that will lead up to Secretary Kerry making a determination on whether to go forward with the project.

Kerry, who now joins the review process for the first time, will look at how the project “fits into broader national and international efforts on climate change or foreign policy and energy security,” Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said on a conference call with reporters Friday.

Asked whether climate change will be something given significant consideration to whether the project goes forward, Jones responded, “Absolutely, given the priority that climate is for President Obama and Secretary Kerry.”

Kerry will consult with at least nine federal departments who have a stake in the project going forward. The departments have 90 days to submit their comments, and the public has a concurrent 30-day threshold.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf added that Secretary Kerry himself has no deadline to make his decision as to whether the project should be approved.

While Speaker Boehner said the State Department’s final environmental assessment of the Keystone pipeline leaves the President “out of excuses” for delaying approval of the pipeline, environmental advocates are also claiming victory with the report, saying, essentially, the exact opposite.

“[OBAMA] now has all the information he needs to reject this pipeline,” Kenny Bruno, U.S. Coordinator of Tar Sands Campaign said on a conference call Friday afternoon with environmental leaders and reporters.

The report concluded that the pipeline would not affect extraction levels, because both supply and demand are abundant. Environmentalists took issue with that point, as expected, claiming the report omitted possible regulatory changes that could make extraction and transportation of crude oil more costly as well as possible investment in renewables, which could also impact the cost of oil and gas.

But beyond that, the group seemed optimistic about the report, claiming victory over a number of points, including the acknowledgment that more tar sands equals more carbon emissions.

“The state department finally took out the preposterous conclusion that keystone will have no impact on climate,” Mike Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said.

“It is clear that keystone is necessary for the expansion of tar sands and tar sands will lead to more carbon emissions,” Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska continued.

The group also celebrated the report’s recognition that the proposed route still crosses two critical areas: the Sand Hills and Ogallala aquifer.

The report is not a final judgment and the environmentalists seemed encouraged by the prospect that the decision is moving to the White House, where it will be, “in the hands of climate champions Barack Obama and John Kerry,” Bruno noted.

The group said they have vigils and acts of civil disobedience planned for next week. The Sierra Club is set to release a report Tuesday highlighting voter support for elected officials that work on clean energy.  As expected, the organization heads said they will be backing candidates this year on this issue.

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