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EPA takes on State Department over Keystone pipeline

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Obama administration has heard from plenty of critics over its handling — and endless delays — of the Keystone XL pipeline.

But now it's taking fire from its own Environmental Protection Agency, which is blasting the State Department for an "insufficient" review of the massive Canada-to-Texas oil sands project. The EPA contends that the State Department, and the Obama administration as a whole, must take a deeper environmental look at Keystone before making a final decision.

The filing, offered on the final day that the State Department accepted public comments on the project, is a key victory for environmentalists in their fight to stop the $7 billion pipeline.

Specifically, the EPA is taking aim at last month's State Department environmental review of the project. The draft study found that, among other positives, there would be no significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions if Keystone goes forward.

The EPA is disputing that claim and many others in the 2,000-page State Department review. In its public comments, the agency says it has "environmental objections" based on "insufficient information" and that more research is needed.

The environmental community praised the EPA's move, which may be a signal that presidential approval of Keystone is no longer a safe bet.

"The EPA has got it exactly right — the State Department's draft environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is inadequate," said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a vocal opponent of the project. "The EPA determined that the Keystone XL would have significant negative environmental impacts."

There have been about 1 million comments submitted to the State Department, which closed its nearly two-month feedback period at the close of business Monday.

The next step is for State to review those comments and, sometime in the late summer or early fall, issue a determination on whether Keystone is in the "national interest."

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell didn't directly address the EPA filing, but did say additional work will be done before the environmental review is finalized.

"The State Department has always anticipated that in preparing a final [environmental study] it would conduct additional analysis and incorporate public comments," he told reporters.

Based on its environmental study, most observers had expected State to conclude that the project was indeed in the best interest of the U.S. and its energy future. Such a statement would be a precursor to President Obama's official approval.

The EPA comments, however, complicate matters and could provide the president with political cover to reject or further delay the pipeline.

At the very least, the EPA's opinion gives fresh ammunition to environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and others.

Even before the EPA weighed in, Keystone opponents led by liberal activist group Credo threatened to unleash "the biggest spread of peaceful civil disobedience in modern American history" if the White House signs off on the project. There have also been mass protests on the Mall, rallies in front of the White House and other public steps taken by the anti-Keystone movement.

But the pro-Keystone crowd also is ramping up the pressure. Business, energy and labor groups, along with a growing bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill, strongly back the pipeline and continue to tout its job-creation potential and role in nudging the U.S. closer to North American energy independence.

The Canadian government also is making its voice heard.

On Wednesday, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver will again visit Washington — his fourth visit in recent years — to push the White House to approve Keystone. Mr. Oliver will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and will meet with administration and congressional leaders.

"Canada supports the Keystone XL project because it will enhance national security, create jobs and foster long-term economic prosperity for both of our countries," Mr. Oliver said in a statement announcing his trip.

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