State Department Eases Path for Controversial Pipeline

Raises pressure on Obama to approve Keystone XL Pipeline

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An environmental impact report on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline raised few obstacles to the project Friday, raising the political stakes for the Obama administration as it makes a final determination on the controversial pipeline in the months ahead.

Environmental groups have lobbied the White House to kill the proposed pipeline—which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries—arguing that it would contribute to climate change and warning of the risk of spills. But the State Department assessment said the tar sands oil would be extracted regardless of the pipeline’s approval, and found it to be a safer and more environmentally friendly way to transport the crude oil, compared to rail or tanker transport.

The findings add to pressure on the White House from Republicans to approve the pipeline, which has been tied up in regulatory reviews for years.

“This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “So, Mr. President, no more stalling—no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen.”

The State Department review estimated that the construction of the pipeline would create 42,100 jobs and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States.

The League of Conservation Voters, one of many green groups that have fiercely opposed the pipeline, said said the Obama administration now faces “a choice between locking us into an unsafe future with more dirty and dangerous fuels or moving toward a clean energy economy that will help combat the climate crisis.”

The Obama administration now must make a final determination of whether the project is in the national interest. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t discuss Friday to what extend Obama would be involved in the decision. “I’m not going to make a statement about what the president is going to do based on something that hasn’t happened yet,” Carney said.

The State Department said the final permit evaluation process “now focuses on whether the proposed Project serves the national interest, which involves consideration of many factors: including, energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations and issues,” the State Department said in a fact sheet. “During this time the Department will consult with, at least, the eight agencies identified in the Executive Order: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

In remarks last year on climate change, Obama said he would only approve the project if it was in the national interest, adding that curbing carbon pollution was in the national interest.

“I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” Obama said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.  It’s relevant.”