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State Department's Environmental Report Lends Support To Keystone XL Approval

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Pool via Getty Images
Pool via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The State Department released a new environmental analysis of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday that increases the likelihood that the Obama administration will approve the project.

The report, which is the final version of the department's environmental impact statement, found that the pipeline will not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions -- the biggest issue for the environmental groups that want to see the pipeline rejected.

The report found that the production, refining and combustion of the projected 830,000 barrels of oil that will flow through the pipeline each day will add between 147 and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Further, the report states that "approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States."

The report also notes that the proposed alternative pipelines that would carry oil from the tar sands to the west coast of Canada, rather than across the U.S., "face significant opposition from various groups, and they may continue to be delayed." That, the project's opponents said, is further evidence that the oil industry needs the Keystone pipeline in order to ramp up tar sands development -- and that their development isn't guaranteed without the pipeline.

While there are some changes from the draft impact analysis released last March, the report did not find any significant new environmental concerns related to the pipeline.

In a press briefing Friday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated that the environmental impact analysis is not the final say. "This is not a decision. It's another step in the process as prescribed by the executive order," said Harf. She emphasized that the report will be open for public comment for 30 days, and for comments from other federal agencies. Secretary of State John Kerry, she said, would take the report into consideration in his final recommendation on the pipeline, along with the comments and the administration's "climate and environmental priorities."

There is no deadline for Kerry to issues his final decision, she said.

President Barack Obama said in his climate change speech last June that the pipeline should be approved only if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," adding that the questions surrounding emissions will be "absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward."

Responding to the report on Friday afternoon, environmental groups argued that emissions from both the pipeline's operations and from burning the oil it would transport are too high to meet the the president's stated climate goals.

"This report gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this project," said Bill McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, which has led anti-Keystone protests. "It makes it clear that it will contribute significantly to climate change."

The groups struck a hopeful tone for their continuing effort to stop the pipeline. "The game's not over," said Kenny Bruno, the U.S. coordinator for the Tar Sands Campaign. "We're just moving to the fourth quarter." The final decision, he said, "is now in the hands of climate champions Barack Obama and John Kerry."

Industry groups, meanwhile, argued that the report supports their position on Keystone. "This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline's potential negative impact on the environment," Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. "This long awaited project should now be swiftly approved."

The State Department inspector general is still conducting an investigation into complaints of conflict of interest regarding the contractor who prepared the environmental analysis. Environmental groups and a group of House Democrats had asked the agency to delay the release of this analysis until the IG's report is released.

This article has been updated with additional comments from environmental and business organizations.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article understated the number of metric tons of greenhouse gases that would be produced as a result of the pipeline.

 
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