- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2013

The State Department released preliminary findings of a new environmental impact study surrounding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, but made no clear recommendation as to whether the the pipeline should be held up for environmental or economic reasons.

Reporters trying to make sense of the nearly 2,000 pages of findings were flummoxed by one senior State Department official who stressed that the document “does not come out one way or the other and make a decision” about whether the U.S. should or should not go forward with the project.

Years of heated debate have surrounded the proposed 1,700 mile pipeline that would transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. But Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones told reporters that it remains “somewhat premature” to get into questions of whether Keystone would result in a seriously negative impact on the environment.

Pro-pipeline groups applauded the findings Friday evening, while Environmental groups responded with immediate frustration — claiming the State Department had only confused an already complicated fight over the project, permits for which were previously blocked by the Obama administration amid environmental concerns.

One the one hand, the findings suggest that big-picture environmental concerns — such as those related to green house gases and global warming — are irrelevant on grounds that western Canada’s oil sands will eventually end being developed and made into burnable fuel whether the White House continues to block the Keystone pipeline or not.

One the other hand, the findings make a clear case that if the Obama administration allows the Keystone to go forward, the long-term impact of the project may result in a significant increase the amount of so-called “green house gasses” being pumped into the atmosphere by U.S. consumers.

Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from the gasoline that ultimately gets produced from oils sands that would be pumped through the Keystone pipeline are “as much as 17 percent higher than gasoline from the average mix of crudes consumed in the United States in 2005,” the State Department’s findings state.

In general, the findings state, gasoline created from the Canadian sands emits between 13 and 19 percent “more life-cycle GHG emissions than Middle Eastern Sour, Mexican Heavy (i.e., Mexican Maya), and Venezuelan Bachaquero crudes, respectively.”

Damon Moglen, who heads the climate and energy program at Friends of the Earth, which has long fought against Keystone, said State Department officials were “really contradicting themselves.”

“What they are saying is that regardless of what they do, they tar sands are going to be developed anyway, so they’re saying the no action alternative will have no impact, which is ludicrous,” said Mr. Moglen, who also voiced frustration about the “incredibly unwieldy and difficult to read” nature of the State Department document.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, the international programs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the “facts remains absolutely clear: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest.”

“Mining the tar sands would be a disaster for our climate,” Mrs. Casey-Lefkowitz said. “Piping it through the heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk. And sending it to the Gulf only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets.”

But several Republican lawmakers and pro-U.S. energy independence groups such as the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) had a very different reaction on Friday.

“The document clearly shows the project will have minimal environmental impacts,” said Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the CEA, which issued a statement calling the State Department’s study “one of the most thorough and pragmatic project reviews in our nations history.”

“For months project opponents have tried to convince the public that moving forward with the pipeline would sacrifice our environment to the benefit of our economy,” said Mr. Whatley, adding that the State Department findings “clearly refutes this false choice.”

“We urge the U.S. State Department to finalize its review and the Administration to quickly approve the cross-border permit which will allow this critical project to move forward, create thousands of high paying jobs and provide the United States with a much-needed economic boost,” he added.

The findings also prompted a positive reaction among pro-pipeline lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The findings “confirm what we already knew — this pipeline is safe and in the best interest of the American people,” read a joint statement by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield, who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

“There are no legitimate reasons not to move forward on the landmark jobs project,” the two Republicans said.

California Republican Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that “the delay tactics by this administration must stop.”

President Obama and newly confirmed Secretary of State John F. Kerry have “no credible reason to wait any longer to approve a project that will create more than 200,000 American jobs and enhance our national security,” said Mr. Royce.

Mr. Obama initially tried to delay a decision on Keystone until after last year’s elections and then, when forced to make a final decision by a law passed by Congress, he rejected an application by the private firms who would carrying out actual construction on the project.

A new application has since been submitted and approved by the governor of Nebraska, which had been a sticking point.

State Department officials stressed on Friday that their findings are preliminary and will now go through public comments and review phase, which could last months.

A final determination on the Keystone pipeline application is expected by be made by the White House later this year.

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