Today, the State Department posted a clarification of the timing around the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline permitting process. This pipeline would bring dirty and risky tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast – travelling over the sensitive freshwater supplies of America’s heartland. Responsible for both an environmental impact process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and a national interest determination under executive order, the State Department had run the two processes simultaneously in the past. However, given the heightened interest in the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline permitting process, the State Department today posted its intent to only start the 90-day clock ticking on the national interest determination once the final environmental impact statement is completed and can be reviewed by the agencies to assist in the national interest determination process. This means we will likely not see a permitting decision on this tar sands pipeline until 2011.
For some time now, including in our environmental community comments on the draft environmental impact statement, we have been recommending that in order to assess environmental impacts in the national interest determination, the agencies needed to be able to review the final environmental impact statement. Chairman Waxman made the same recommendation in his letter to Secretary Clinton a few weeks ago. The State Department has not only received comments from the public, but also from approximately 8 U.S. agencies. Last week, EPA made its comments public. Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) made its comments public. But we have yet to see the comments from the other agencies or from members of the public. Given the interest in understanding the full scope of the comments on the draft environmental impact statement, State would do well to make all the comments public at this point, rather than expecting the public to try to secure the comments agency by agency.
The State Department is currently reviewing comments received on the draft environmental impact statement and determining how to respond to those comments. This will likely take awhile, especially given that the comments we have seen call for substantial additional research and analysis. EPA has clearly called for a supplemental draft environmental impact statement and DOE has identified sufficient missing pieces of information in the draft environmental impact statement that a supplement with another public review process is clearly needed.
In the light of the Gulf oil disaster and the public questioning of the dangers of our continuing addiction to oil, it is important that the Obama Administration get it right with this pipeline. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is unnecessary and will actually undermine steps to a clean energy economy, increasing our reliance on another risky source of oil. The State Department’s decision to have the national interest determination come only after the final environmental impact statement is completed is important. However, equally important is for the State Department to make the comments on the draft environmental impact statement public and to follow the recommendations in the comments to prepare additional analysis and information in a supplemental draft environmental impact statement with an additional public comment period for review.