DOS gives federal agencies more time for Keystone XL comments

Eight federal agencies preparing comments on the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project’s cross-border permit received additional time, the US Department of State announced. It did not set a new deadline, but emphasized that the agency consultation process will not start over.

“Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state,” DOS said in its Apr. 18 announcement.

“In addition, during this time we will review and appropriately consider the unprecedented number of new public comments, approximately 2.5 million, received during the public comment period that closed on Mar. 7,” it continued.

When it released the latest final supplemental environmental impact statement on Jan. 31, DOS announced that the US Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency would submit comments under an executive order on whether the crude oil pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Midcontinent and Gulf Coast refineries is in the nation’s national interest.

“The permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” its statement said. “The department will give the agencies sufficient time to submit their views.”

‘Disappointed, frustrated’

Russ Girling, chief executive of TransCanada Corp., the project’s sponsor, said the Calgary oil and gas transmission company was “disappointed and frustrated with yet another delay,” which he found inexplicable.

“The first leg of our Keystone pipeline began shipping oil to refineries outside of St. Louis in 2010,” he continued. “It is about the same length of pipe as Keystone XL, carries the same oil, and also crosses the 49th parallel. It took just 21 months to study and approve,” Girling said.

He added, “After more than 2,000 days, five exhaustive environmental reviews, and over 17,000 pages of scientific data Keystone XL continues to languish.”

Top officials of two major US oil and gas industry associations also were displeased. “It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job-creating policy at the White House,” American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard declared.

“After nearly 6 years of review, repeated research on the pipeline’s benefits to economic security and job growth, numerous studies confirming no significant environmental impacts, with the backing of organized labor, and poll after poll showing the support of American voters—if the White House lacks the political leadership to make a decision, we call on Congress to represent the will of the people and act,” he said.

‘Bad public policy’

“This politically motivated decision comes as no surprise,” American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna separately said, adding, “Delaying a decision until after the November elections is bad public policy.”

Drevna continued, “President Obama could have decided today to allow the pipeline, which has already been extensively studied and found to have little to no impact on the environment, but would greatly enhance our national security, create thousands of immediate jobs and grow local, state and federal tax revenue. Instead he chose to put politics ahead of America’s security, the economy and consumers.”

Other business groups also criticized the delay. “Manufacturers and workers are absolutely astounded by the latest delay,” National Association of Manufacturers Pres. Jay Timmons said.

“In the time it has taken Keystone XL to simply acquire a permit, we could have built both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building,” he said. “Enough is enough. Manufacturers are united in calling on the president to end this nonsense and approve the Keystone XL pipeline immediately.”

The Laborers International Union of North America’s leader blasted the new delay. “It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics,” LIUNA Gen. Pres. Terry O’Sullivan said. “Once again, the administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country. This certainly is no example of profiles in courage.”

Congressional responses

Congressional energy leaders also weren’t reticent in their reactions. “Today’s decision by the administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay,” US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) said. “By making it clear that [it] will not move the process forward until there is a resolution in a lawsuit in Nebraska, the administration is sending a signal that the small minority who oppose the pipeline can tie up the process in court forever.”

Separately, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), the committee’s ranking minority member, said, “The administration’s choice to delay indefinitely a decision on extending the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing short of a stunning act of political cowardice. And the timing of this announcement—waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice—only adds further insult.”

US House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, “Once again, in this so-called ‘Year of Action,’ the Obama administration has hit the pause button on jobs and affordable energy. All Keystone XL requires is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but after over 2,000 days, the administration is still incapable of making a decision, putting politics ahead of jobs—not exactly a profile in courage.”

But US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said DOS made the right choice. “I was pleased to learn today that [US Secretary of State John F. Kerry] has agreed to take into account the public health impacts of the tar sands oil when he considers whether the pipeline is in the national interest,” she said. “But I still do not have a clear-cut answer on whether there will be a separate health impacts study, which is clearly in the public interest.”

Environmental organizations were pleased. “It is already clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the climate test and will damage our climate, our lands, and our waters,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council’s International Program.

“Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL,” she declared. “The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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