Pipeline safety and refinery pollution studies still needed to meet State Department "thorough review" criteria for Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Today the State Department announced their next steps on the review process for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Most noteworthy, the State Department said that although “we expect to make a decision on whether to grant or deny the permit before the end of the year, we will not make a decision until we have completed this thorough review process.” A thorough review process for this pipeline must include analysis of pipeline safety, refinery pollution/environmental justice and many other issues identified by EPA when they gave their insufficient rating to the supplemental draft environmental impact statement.  Certainly, the process should not be rushed by legislation such as H.R. 1938 currently under consideration in the House that would curtail the environmental review and national interest determination and force a decision by early November.

There is no rush for an artificial deadline of the end of the year if we do not have analysis that will help protect farmers and communities along the pipeline path and the already beleaguered communities around the Gulf coast refineries. The State Department needs to stand by its commitment to complete a thorough review process and hold off on issuing the final environmental impact statement (EIS) until the studies can be done and the public has had a chance to comment on them.

According to the State Department, we can expect the final EIS in mid-August. It is unconscionable to have left so many issues unaddressed and then not provide an opportunity for public comment on the next iteration of the environmental review. The EPA asked for more information on pipeline safety, how oil spills might affect environmental justice concerns and whether there are alternative routes to the Ogallala Aquifer. Especially in the light of the recent spill of 42,000 gallons of oil into the wild Yellowstone River and the fact that TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has had over 30 spills in the U.S. and Canada its first year of operation, the State Department owes it to farmers and communities to get this analysis right. And the Gulf coast communities, already suffering from refinery pollution and the effects of the BP Gulf oil spill deserve to have a thorough study of the additional refinery pollution burden that tar sands oil would bring. EPA also asked for more information on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and on migratory bird and wetlands impacts. This is a heavy list of “insufficiencies” and the public deserves a chance to review how and if they are incorporated into the next iteration of the environmental review – before a final EIS is issued.

The State Department will hold a series of public meetings in each of the pipeline states and in Washington, D.C. However, only if the environmental review process is still open will these meetings be as meaningful as they should be – especially since so many concerns will be raised about the weakest sections of the environmental review.

In the meantime, if the State Department sticks to the timetable they have laid out, after the final EIS in mid-August , the national interest determination process kicks off with 90 days for agency comments. This is something particular to transboundary pipelines and is mandated by the same executive order that granted the State Department the authority over transboundary pipelines. The criteria for the national interest determination should be broad and should answer the basic question of whether a high-carbon fuel such as tar sands oil fits in a clean energy economy. 

The State Department claims to be following a “thorough and objective” process. If they want to make true on this claim, they will provide the additional analysis so critical to making this decision and they will give the public a chance to review that information before finalizing the environmental review process.

The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline does not fit in a clean energy economy. We have better solutions to meet our transportation needs than destructive tar sands oil. And we should take the time to gather the best information so that the Administration can make a truly informed decision. 

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