The People's Voice Wins the Day on Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Today, the Obama Administration through the State Department announced a new environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that is likely to last through early 2013. This is a tremendous victory in a campaign that has pitted people from all walks of life against dirty tar sands. By calling for a new environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama is displaying leadership and a continued strong commitment to protections for land, air, water, climate and public health. He heard Nebraskans, Texans, Montanans and others ask for protection of their land and water.  He heard masses of students, teachers, faith leaders and others ask for a strong stance against climate change. The President is doing what is in the interest of the American people and showing leadership on climate and energy at home and abroad.

Had the Keystone XL pipeline been approved by the end of the year, it would have carried tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet, through the heartland of America for likely export. It would also have signaled to Big Oil that expansion of the tar sands could proceed.

The President already made clear that he is listening to the concerns of Nebraskans as they hold a special legislative session called by Republican Governor Heineman to take ownership of the siting of pipelines across their lands. Three to one, Nebraskans oppose the current proposed route across the Ogallala Aquifer.

And over the last few months, we have witnessed historic numbers of people willing to risk arrest, willing to come to Washington to rally, and willing to reach out at campaign offices and events to send a clear message that the Keystone XL pipeline takes us backward on dirty energy at a time we need to be doing all we can to fight the very real threat to our country of climate change.

This announcement cuts short the State Department’s arbitrary deadline for a decision by the end of the year. By moving away from the flawed route, the Administration essentially acknowledges that there have been problems with the State Department review process to date, showing that they do indeed stand by their commitment to transparent and participatory government. It is critical that this new review avoid the conflicts of interest of the past.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to make sure that the review is as thorough as possible. A fresh review provides the Administration the time to get this decision right and to gather information about the ways in which this tar sands pipeline would hurt our health, water, farms and climate. With this information in hand, the only possible decision will be to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.  

The American people asked for Presidential leadership and they got it.


For Immediate Release and Posting



Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release                                                                                                                                                           November 10, 2011



Keystone XL Pipeline Project Review Process: Decision to Seek Additional Information


Executive Order 13337 authorizes the Department of State to lead the review of Presidential Permit applications for transborder pipelines, granting the Department discretion in determining what factors to examine to inform a determination of whether the proposed project is in the national interest.  Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of TransCanada’s application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project.  As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. 


As part of the National Interest Determination process, the State Department held a public comment period, including public meetings in the six potentially affected states and Washington, D.C., to increase the opportunity for public comments.  During this time, the Department also received input from state, local, and tribal officials.  We received comments on a wide range of issues including the proposed project’s impact on jobs, pipeline safety, health concerns, the societal impact of the project, the oil extraction in Canada, and the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, which was one of the most common issues raised.  The comments were consistent with the information in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about the unique combination of characteristics in the Sand Hills (which includes a high concentration of wetlands of special concern, a sensitive ecosystem, and extensive areas of very shallow groundwater) and provided additional context and information about those characteristics.  The concern about the proposed route’s impact on the Sand Hills of Nebraska has increased significantly over time, and has resulted in the Nebraska legislature convening a special session to consider the issue.   


State law primarily governs routes for interstate petroleum pipelines; however, Nebraska currently has no such law or regulatory framework authorizing state or local authorities to determine where a pipeline goes.  Taken together with the national concern about the pipeline’s route, the Department has determined it is necessary to examine in-depth alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills in Nebraska in order to move forward with a National Interest Determination for the Presidential Permit.


Based on the Department’s experience with pipeline project reviews and the time typically required for environmental reviews of similar scope by other agencies, it is reasonable to expect that this process including a public comment period on a supplement to the final EIS consistent with NEPA could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013.  After obtaining the additional information, the Department would determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies identified in the Executive Order, whether the proposed pipeline was in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together.  Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.