Law makers urge President to hold off on Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision until permitting process investigated

Today, members of Congress led by Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) called for an investigation of the State Department’s handling of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Until this investigation is complete and its full impacts assessed, they ask that the permitting process for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline be put on hold. This is the right course of action. The President should ultimately reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as not being in the national interest. But it is critical that the Administration get the process and substance of the review right – America is watching this decision and asking that the President listen to and understand our concerns about how tar sands expansion will undermine our efforts for a healthy clean, clean energy jobs, clean water and healthy farmlands.

The law makers formally asked the Inspector General of the State Department for an investigation. They write: “It is imperative that the State Department be free of actual or apparent conflicts of interest and that the process fully meets both the letter and the spirit of all federal laws, including but not limited to the National Environmental Policy Act.” In letting President Obama know about this request for an investigation, they write: “We respectfully request that your administration hold off on any final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application until an independent Inspector General investigation is completed, made public and fully evaluated.

Just today, in Denver, in response to an audience member asking the president to reject plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would cut through the US from Canada to Texas, President Obama is reported to have said, ``We're looking at it right now. No decision's been made, and I know your deep concern about it. So we will address it.''       

The President should “address” the Keystone XL project by deciding that it is not in the national interest and rejecting the pipeline proposal.  But the members of Congress are right in asking for an investigation at this stage to ensure that we do have a fair process. The Administration owes the American public a transparent and thorough review of the potential impacts of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The State Department has seemingly set the interests of a foreign company, TransCanada, above the interests of American farmers, ranchers and clean energy workers. Its seriously flawed environmental review of this project incredibly found “no significant impact.”

The disturbing conflict of interest issues already written about by my colleague Danielle Droitsch stem from a process that has not been responsive to the public or other agency concerns. Far too much has been delegated to TransCanada’s contractor Cardno-Entrix, and reflects a long predisposition to move the process through quickly with as little detailed review as possible. This is reflected in the extent to which public concerns over pipeline safety, the Ogallala Aquifer, climate change impacts, impacts on clean energy investments, environmental justice in refining communities and much more have been minimalized.

The review process of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been fraught with difficulties and resistance from the State Department.  The State Department has seemed to ignore comments and voices from the Environmental Protection Agency, members of Congress and members of the public. But the President should not ignore these voices. In fact, on November 6, thousands of people will encircle the White House to show their support for President Obama standing up for clean energy and a healthy climate and rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We hope that the President hears these voices, gets the process right and makes the right decision to draw the line at dirty energy.

The members signing the letters include Senator Sanders, Rep Cohen (D-TN), Senator Wyden (D-OR), Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), Rep Welch (D-VT), Rep Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep Pingree (D-ME), Rep Hirono (D-HI), Rep Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep Johnson (D-GA), Rep Honda (D-CA), Rep Kucinich (D-OH), and Rep Ryan (D-OH).