Capitol Hill Republicans say yet another environmental impact study of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is unwarranted and nothing more than a stall tactic by the Obama administration that threatens the project.
The State Department announced Friday it had ordered a new study because the Canadian firm TransCanada revised its proposed Canada-to-Nebraska pipeline to avoid Nebraska's environmental sensitive Sandhills. In January, President Obama rejected the company's previous bid because he said more time was needed to vet alternative routes.
The Republican lawmakers say the new review should be limited only to the new 88-mile rerouted section in Nebraska, not the entire 900-plus mile route from the Montana-Canada border to Steele City, Neb. - a move they say is unnecessary in light of an exhaustive four-year study of the project completed last year.
The "notice from the Department of State seems to be yet another obstructive tactic designed to appease a narrow constituency," said Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican. "The environment does not change in the nine months since the issuance, nearly a year ago in August, of the final environmental impact statement. That document concluded that there are 'no significant impacts.' "
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, said that expanding the review to the entire route would entangle the project in needless red tape and delay the creation of thousands of new jobs the project promises.
"With its proposed supplemental review, the Obama administration is taking yet another step farther away from energy security and job creation," he said.
The State Department said its primary goal is to review the pipeline's proposed new section, an effort to be undertaken by an outside reviewer in conjunction with the state of Nebraska. The agency also said it will take another look at last year's impact study to see if anything has changed. The study is expected to take six to nine months.
TransCanada says reviewing the entire project is unnecessary because the previous study showed that it "would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline under current code."
"The final review should focus solely on the realigned route that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills," TransCanada President and Chief Executive Russ Girling said. "The rest of the Keystone XL route remains the same. The geology of the route remains the same. The environmental conditions remain the same. Nothing else has changed."
Some environmentalists also are upset because they say the new review won't consider possible climate change impacts of the pipeline, which would begin in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
"The tar sands industry is linked to greenhouse gas emissions," said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a liberal advocacy group opposed to the pipeline. "In an honest assessment they'd realize that actually, no, this is not good for the environment."
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the Keystone pipeline threatens to derail a long-term bill to fund federal transportation projects. House Republicans have pressed to include the pipeline in the measure, while most Democrats in both chambers are adamant on leaving it out, saying it's unrelated.
The issue also continues to haunt presidential politics. One the biggest applause lines on Republican Mitt Romney's ongoing six-state bus tour through the Rust Belt and Midwest has been his repeated vow to "get that pipeline in from Canada - even if I have to build it myself."
*Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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