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EPA Rips State Dept.’s Pipeline Review

Thursday, April 25, 2013

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is again lambasting the State Department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, calling the four-volume assessment inadequate and insufficiently attentive to environmental concerns.

In a highly technical, recent letter to the State Department, the EPA’s Cynthia Giles said the State Department's assessment included “insufficient information,” inaccurate market analysis, and inadequate consideration of alternative routes for the controversial $7.6 billion pipeline.

Keystone XL maps
U.S. State Department

The proposed line has been rerouted around environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska. The southern leg, which requires no Presidential Permit, is underway.

The seven-page, undated EPA letter, released Monday (April 22), urges the State Department to look again at numerous issues involving the pipeline, which was first proposed in 2008 and then revamped and reintroduced in 2012.

Giles’ letter says the EPA will not approve the pipeline without additional studies.

The EPA letter was one of hundreds of thousands of documents submitted to the State Department in response to its Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS), which was released March 1. The public comment period on the statement closed Monday.

The four-volume Draft SEIS weighs the current proposal's impact on jobs, revenues, the market, soil, groundwater, surface water, jobs, greenhouse gas emissions, potential releases and spills, air quality, noise, fisheries and more.

The new draft builds on a 1,000-page, nine-volume Final Environmental Impact Statement that the State Department issued in August 2011. That statement detailed 57 “Special Conditions” for the pipeline, all of which owner TransCanada met. The company has also rerouted the line away from certain environmentally sensitive areas.

Both State Department reviews have determined that the pipeline would have “no significant” environmental impact.

Keystone XL comparisons

A U.S. State Department table compares the original Keystone XL project and the 2012 version currently under consideration.

The new assessment considers more than 400,000 new emails, letters and communications submitted since the pipeline proposal was re-introduced last summer, in addition to more than 1 million comments submitted in response to the initial proposal years ago, the State Department said.

Presidential Permit Sought

The pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day extracted from the oil sands areas in Alberta, Canada. Oil sands (also known as tar sands) are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen.

Critics say the carbon-intensive crude is heavier and more corrosive than regular crude oil. They have also noted that owner TransCanada racked up 14 spills in the first 14 months after the 1,300-mile Keystone system opened.

The XL project—officially, the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project—would nearly double the Keystone system’s capacity.

The 875-mile XL pipeline segment from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, NE, requires a Presidential Permit to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. The State Department must determine whether a project is in the “national Interest” before granting a Presidential Permit.

(A Presidential Permit was recently granted for the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit, MI, and Windsor, Ontario.)

WhiteHouseProtest
grist.org

White House protests in 2011 derailed the original pipeline proposal. Critics are concerned about the crude to be carried and about TransCanada's spill record.

TransCanada is currently building a separate Keystone pipeline through Oklahoma and Texas that terminates in the Texas Gulf Coast region (the Gulf Coast Project) that follows the southern portion of its previous application. The Gulf Coast Project does not require a Presidential Permit.

EPA Criticism

In her letter to two State Department officials, Giles said the agency's new draft assessment “strengthens” the 2011 analysis, but still does not go far enough.

“While we appreciate this effort, we also have several recommendations for improving the analysis and considering  additional mitigation as you move forward to complete the [National Environmental Policy Act] process,” the letter says.

The letter details requests for additional study of greenhouse gas emissions,  market analysis, pipeline safety, alternative pipeline routes, and community and environmental justice impacts.

SandHillsNebraska
U.S. State Department

The current route bypasses the sensitive Sand Hills region in Nebraska.

The EPA rated the State Department assessment as EO-2 (“Environmental Objections – Insufficient Information”). That is the second-worst rating on the four-point Environmental Impact scale (second only to "Environmentally Unsatisfactory") and the middle of three rankings on the adequacy of the report (between Adequate and Inadequate).

Decision Ahead

While it is rare for two agencies of the same administration to air their disputes publicly, it is the second time around for the State Department and EPA on this issue.

President Obama has changed his position on the project several times in recent years, first favoring the project, then stopping it after public protests erupted, then endorsing the southern segment of the project last year.

Cynthia Giles

EPA official Cynthia Giles said the State Department's assessment was built on "inadequate information."

Critics, including many members of Congress, have protested for years that the State Department has been lax in its oversight of the project.

A State Department spokesman said the agency would review all of the comments, including the EPA’s, “in a rigorous, transparent and efficient manner.”

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make a recommendation to Obama on the pipeline later this year. The President will make the final determination after that.

   

Tagged categories: Business matters; Construction; Corrosion; Enforcement; Environmental Protection; EPA; Government; Infrastructure; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; President Obama

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