EPA attacks State Dept Keystone pipeline review

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The Environmental Protection Agency has jumped into battle over the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline and called the Department of State’s recent review of the controversial pipeline “insufficient,” arguing it needed to take a harder look at the environmental and climate impacts from moving Canadian tar sands oil into the U.S.

The EPA also argued that the State Department failed to fully consider alternative routes for the pipeline, saying that the review “does not provide a detailed analysis of the Keystone Corridor Alternative routes, which would parallel the existing Keystone Pipeline and likely further reduce potential environmental impacts to groundwater resources.”

The agency raised concerns over the carbon emissions from the energy-intensive Canadian oil sands and about pipeline safety. Last month, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled five thousand barrels of Canadian oil in Arkansas, but the EPA did not mention this spill in their letter.

“As we have indicated in the past, we believe these alternative routes could further reduce risks to groundwater resources. We recommend that the Final EIS [environmental impact statement] either provide more detailed information as to why these alternatives were not considered reasonable or analyze these alternatives in more detail,” the agency said.

According to The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, the EPA’s objections provides Keystone opponents with political ammunition and could force President Barack Obama to make the decision on the pipeline himself if the agency challenges the State Department’s national interest determination.

“As long as no other agency objects, state can issue a ruling on the pipeline on its own; if EPA challenges the national interest determination the State Department makes at the end of its review process, Obama himself would have to issue the final permit decision,” Eilperin writes.

Pipeline backers argue that the Keystone XL will help increase U.S. energy security and create much needed economic activity and job creation.

“The EPA’s objections to the State Department’s draft EIS demonstrate once again that the EPA is more interested in promoting a political agenda than protecting public health and safety,” said Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Jack Spencer.

“The XL pipeline has been studied extensively and has been found to be environmentally safe twice,” Spencer added. “The administration’s continued foot dragging on the essential project is simply inexcusable when so many Americans are out of work.”

The State Department’s review found that Keystone would not harm the environment and would have little impact on climate change, which angered environmental groups. However, the review also said that U.S. energy needs could be met by the increased use of rail transportation of oil and other pipelines.

“EPA’s review undermines the State Department’s central argument that Keystone XL won’t have a serious climate impact,” said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “EPA has asked state to look again at the climate impacts of the pipeline, Keystone’s route through the Ogallala Aquifer and the department’s market analysis of transporting tar sands crude via rail. On all of these questions and more, state failed its test.”

However, data shows that rails are three times more likely than pipelines to spill oil, according to the Association of American Railroads. However, pipeline spills are usually four times larger than rail line spills.

“The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines, that it would be a serious mistake to use these recent spills to say that Keystone is unsafe,” said Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security Initiative.

Obama will likely not make a decision on the pipeline’s permit application until the middle of summer.

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