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White House urged to defer final decision on oil pipeline

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2011

More than a dozen congressional Democrats have asked the White House to wait until the State Department's Inspector General's Office finishes its environmental-impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline before making a final decision on the project, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas.

The pipeline, an extension of TransCanada Corp.'s earlier Keystone 1, is a $7 billion project covering about 1,700 miles. It would cut through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Illinois.

"This is a critically important issue for our environment and the energy future of our country," said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who caucuses with Democrats and who - along with Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat - requested the review.

The State Department, which has said it hopes to give the White House its final decision by the end of the year, fell under sharp criticism last month for having a cozy relationship with TransCanada. Critics of the pipeline contend the State Department overlooked environmental concerns and point to emails between Marja Verloop at the State Department and Paul Elliott, a TransCanada lobbyist who used to work for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Fourteen congressional Democrats subsequently wrote to the inspector general, calling for a "full and thorough investigation" into the agency's handling of the case.

"The primary objective of the review is to determine to what extent the department and all other parties involved complied with federal laws and regulations relating to the Keystone XL pipeline permit process," wrote Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel.

After three years of delays, President Obama appears ready to give a green light to the Keystone project with State Department approval. It's been a tricky situation for him with warring factions between his environmental and union supporters.

On one hand, the pipeline is expected to create some 20,000 American jobs, 13,000 in construction and 7,000 in manufacturing. However, critics fear a spill would greatly harm the environment. The proposed route crosses a 450-mile stretch of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides clean water for much of the Midwest.

Critics stress the 12 spills they say already have occurred along Keystone 1 and the difficulty cleaning up the tar sands oil, which is dirtier than other petroleum products.

"Given the significant economic, environmental, and public health implications of the proposed pipeline," the congressional Democrats wrote, "we believe that it is critical that the State Department conduct thorough, unbiased reviews of the project."

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