State Department report doesn't change views of pipeline supporters/opponents

03 05, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

Supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline are pushing President Barack Obama to approve the project now that the State Department has issued a 2,000-page assessment that finds no conclusive environmental reason to block it. Environmentalists, however, said the report, which makes no recommendation on whether the project should proceed, doesn't change their strong opposition.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he considers the report yet "another excuse in the long line of delays in the Keystone XL pipeline."

"The hurdles to permit Keystone XL have all been cleared, some of them multiple times, but the administration continues to put up new ones," Vitter said. "Their laundry list of delayed projects is a big part of why our economy struggles to recover - and could partially be why gas prices in February saw a record increase."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, agreed.

"If President Obama was serious about creating jobs and fixing this weak economy, he would stand up to the extremist radicals in his party and finally approve the Keystone Pipeline today," Scalise said.

The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry about 800,000 barrels of heavy crude oil every day from the Alberta, Canada tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries, would cost $7 billion. Environmentalists continue to label the project an environmental disaster in the making. The builder would be pipeline operator TransCanada.

"The State Department is trying to duck the significant climate implications of this project, in direct contradiction to President Obama's calls for climate action to protect our future, said National Resources Defense Council Canada Project Director Danielle Droitsch.

Droitsch said the State Department report minimizes the climate impacts of up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands -- which she labeled the dirtiest oil on the planet due to its high-carbon liabilities. The NRDC said building the pipeline would be the same as putting 6 million new cars on the road.

"Keystone XL is bad for the climate and it should be denied," Droitsch said.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is taking a far more cautious view on the pipeline than Sen. Vitter, the panel's ranking Republican member.

"I continue to be very concerned about the contribution that the Keystone XL pipeline would make to dangerous climate change," Boxer said after the State Department issued its environmental report on Friday. The public now has 45 days to comment on the report.

There's no timeframe on when President Obama will decide whether to give the go ahead to the project. During his first term, Obama turned down the pipeline -- on grounds the final route had not been settled as a result of continued disputes with Nebraska officials. Since then, TransCanada and Nebraska officials agreed on a new route.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said it didn't make sense to pass up on the thousands of jobs sponsors say will be created by the pipeline, given that Canada is going to develop the oil regardless of President Obama's decision.

"The question is: Who are they going to send it to?" Landrieu said. "Are they going to send it to their good friend, the United States, to our refineries in Texas and Louisiana? Or are they going to ship it somewhere else in the world?"