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Activists Dismayed by State Dept’s Environmental Assessment of Keystone XL

Draft report released today says pipleline will have little impact on tar sands oil extraction

In a standard beltway move to duck the weekday news cycle when it comes to controversial reports, the US State Department released its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline’s route late on Friday — on a day when most media outlets are focusing on the sequestration cuts.

photoname Photo by tarsandsactionThe report comes just weeks after some 35,000 people converged in Washington, D.C.
to urge President Obama to reject the controversial pipeline.

The report evaluates the new application for Keystone XL submitted by TransCanada in May 2012, after President Obama denied the original application following immense pressure from environmentalists. The new application for the pipeline — that would transport heavy crude from the tar sands mines of Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico — proposes a route that would avoid Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region.

The executive summary of the report that’s now up online (the full report is some 2,000 pages long seems to indicate that though the project would disturb about 15,493 acres of land and could impact 11 endangered species, and transport one of the most dirty fossil fuels ever produced, it’s environmental impact is not going to be catastrophical. The key sentence in the summary that pretty much sums this up (and is being quoted everywhere):

 “the draft Supplemental EIS concludes that approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.”

Which basically translates to, whether the pipeline will have little impact on net carbon emissions since one way or the other, tar sands oil will continue to be sucked out and burned.

Needless to say, environmental groups are dismayed by the report, that comes just weeks after about 35,000 people converged in Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to reject the pipeline that has also become symbolic of the hurdles facing US climate policy. They say the SEIS doesn’t consider fully the impact the pipeline would have on the US environment and public health.

The commentary and analysis is sure to develop more nuance over the next few days. But for now, here’s a brief compilation of reactions from some of the key activists fighting the pipeline:

"We're hearing the same rehashed arguments from the State Dept about why a great threat to the climate is not a threat at all. Mother Nature filed her comments last year — the hottest year in American history; the top climate scientists in the U.S. have already chimed in. The rest of us have 45 days to make our voices heard, and we will …. Time magazine yesterday said that this was the Selma and the Stonewall for the climate movement. Keystone XL has been the thing that brought, for the first time, many people into the streets about climate change. Those people aren't walking away."
— author and activist Bill McKibben, founder of (via email)

 "The Sierra Club is outraged by the State Department’s deeply flawed analysis today and what can only be interpreted as lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children’s future: climate disruption. … this report is nothing short of malpractice.”
— Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club  

 “The State Department’s report got one thing right: we don’t need the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline to meet America’s energy needs. And it got something very, very wrong: it is just untrue that piping oil from the Tar Sands will not have a devastating impact on our climate."
— Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace (in Huffington Post)

 “President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s recent report on Keystone XL is such a joke that we would call it laughable if it didn’t have such severe consequences. … The college students we work with could produce a stronger report on how tar sands expansion means game over for the climate, and President Obama and Secretary Kerry threaten to tarnish their legacy with the next generation of voters if they continue to ignore the profound climate impacts of tar sands expansion.
— Maura Cowley, executive director of Energy Action Coalition (an Earth Island Institute Project)

 A 45-day public comment period will begin when EPA posts the Draft SEIS on its website, which could take about a week from now. For a deeper background on Canada's tar sands oil and the Keystone pipeline read our Spring 2011 stories, Crude Conundrum and Tunnel Vision.


Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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