Senators ask Kerry to study Keystone XL health impacts

US Senate Energy and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and committee member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) jointly asked US Sec. of State John F. Kerry to fully examine potential health impacts before making a decision on the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

“The final supplemental environmental impact statement was woefully inadequate regarding human health impacts, and we believe it is critically important that peer reviewed research on these issues is fully considered before any decision is made,” the senators said in a Feb. 26 letter to Kerry.

Their request came a day after American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard and North American Building Trades Unions Pres. Sean McGarvey wrote Kerry asking him to complete the national interest determination process for Keystone XL and urge US President Barack Obama to approve its cross-border permit without further delay.

Residents of nearby communities have reported health problems related to the extraction, transmission, refining, and waste disposal of crude oil from oil sands, Boxer said.

“Clearly much more needs to be done before any final decision is made,” she told reporters. “Today I ask how are more Americans with asthma in the national interest? How are more Americans with cancer in the national interest?”

‘A rough ride’

Whitehouse, who also participated in the briefing, said, “If we continue with the status quo, we’re in for a rough ride. Keystone XL is a very dangerous part of that status quo.”

The lawmakers were joined by John O’Connor, a physician from Fort Chipewynn, Alta.; Stuart Batterman, an environmental health sciences professor from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health; Hilton Kelley, founder and chief executive of the Community In-power & Development Association in Port Arthur, Tex.; and Tom Shepherd, vice-president of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago.

All reported increased cancer and respiratory disease rates and other public health problems in their own or other communities from nearby oil sands activities.

Keystone XL would increase the amount of crude from oil sands entering the US by 45% initially and possibly by as much as 300% ultimately, Boxer said. “It would be a danger to the health of everyone along the way,” she declared. “I don’t think people understand the truth about tar sands.”

In their Feb. 25 letter to Kerry, Gerard and McGarvey said a Nebraska judge’s recent decision concerning Keystone XL’s route across the state should not affect the national interest determination because the ruling has nothing to do with the project’s merits (OGJ Online, Feb. 20, 2014).

“The facts surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline remain the same,” they continued. “It will enhance our economic and energy security, all with no cost to taxpayers and no significant environmental impact. It garners broad bipartisan support and is backed by American voters. And with a national unemployment rate in construction that is still above 11%, the time is long past to put America’s skilled craft professionals to work on the pipeline.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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