By CORAL DAVENPORTJAN. 31, 2014
Pipes for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline lie at the ready in a field in Gascoyne, N.D. Nathan Vanderklippe/Globe & Mail/Reuters
WASHINGTON — The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.
The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the report appears to indicate that if it were not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forest and transported to refineries by rail instead.
The report sets up a difficult decision for Secretary of State John Kerry, who now must make a recommendation on the international project to Mr. Obama. Mr. Kerry, who hopes to make action on climate change a key part of his legacy, has never publicly offered his personal views on the pipeline. Aides said Mr. Kerry was preparing to “dive into” the 11-volume report and would give high priority to the issue of global warming in making the decision. His aides offered no timetable.
“He’ll deliberate and take the time he needs,” said Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international affairs.
Environmentalists said they were dismayed at some of the report’s conclusions and disputed its objectivity, but they also said it offered Mr. Obama reasons to reject the pipeline. They said they planned to intensify efforts to try to influence Mr. Kerry’s decision. For more than two years, environmentalists have protested the project and been arrested in demonstrations against it around the country. But many Republicans and oil industry executives, who support the pipeline because they say it creates jobs and increases supplies from a friendly source of oil, embraced the findings.
The State Department is expected to shortly release the results of an inspector general’s investigation into the preparation of an earlier draft of the environmental impact report. The investigation was ordered after an environmental group obtained documents indicating that some consultants for the firm that wrote the draft report had previously done work for TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline. If investigators determine a conflict of interest in the preparation of that draft, the State Department may have to conduct a new environmental review.
In light of the investigation, environmentalists were particularly critical of the report released on Friday.
“In what could be perceived as eagerness to please the oil industry and Canadian government, the State Department is issuing this report amidst an ongoing investigation into conflicts of interest, and lying, by its contractor,” said Erich Pica, the president of Friends of the Earth.