Proponents of Keystone XL Tout State Department Findings

Environmental impact study was seen as hurdle for pipeline’s approval

Construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas / AP
January 31, 2014

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline seized on a report released Friday by the State Department that found approving the project would have little environmental impact.

The long-awaited report will likely bolster the case for approving the pipeline. President Barack Obama has put off a decision on the project that has divided labor and environmental groups, two key Democratic constituencies.

"This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement shortly after the report’s release Friday afternoon.

"Mr. President, no more stalling—no more excuses," McConnell said. "Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs."

The report found that extracting Canadian oil sands crude and transporting it to Gulf Coast refineries would increase greenhouse gas emissions, but it noted that a failure to approve Keystone would not prevent that oil from being extracted and burned.

That analysis reflected trends in the oil industry. Companies are increasingly looking to rail transportation, which is dirtier and less safe than pipelines, as an alternative if Keystone is rejected.

A senior State Department official told the Los Angeles Times that the assessment released Friday "is only one factor in the final determination, which will also weigh national security, foreign policy and economic issues."

However, within an hour of the report’s release, supporters of the pipeline were touting its findings as evidence that the pipeline satisfies the president’s stated standard for approval—that it not exacerbate U.S. carbon emissions.

"To date, the State Department's draft studies have concluded that environmental risks from the Keystone Pipeline are minimal," noted Richard Faulk, senior director of the George Mason University law school’s energy and environment initiative. "Now the Department has made its conclusions final and official."

"Now we will see whether the Administration will stick with the facts—or with its constituencies," Faulk said.

The report dealt a blow to the environmentalist movement, which has made the Keystone pipeline its defining battle.

Some environmentalist groups pledged to intensify their fight against the pipeline in the wake of State’s report.

"The release of the new report will be a green light to escalate our efforts," May Boeve, executive director of environmental activist group, told the Times.

"This fight got started at the national level when 1,253 people got arrested in front of the White House," Boeve said. "We expect many more people will take part in civil disobedience and take to the streets before this fight is over."

For now, the momentum appears to be in favor of the pipeline’s proponents.

"If the President meant what he said this week about ‘a year of action,’ he’ll act now on this important project that won’t cost taxpayers a dime to build but will bring thousands of private sector jobs to Americans who desperately need them," McConnell said.