National Interest Determination On Keystone XL May Be Delayed, Improper Influence Alleged

October 2011, Vol. 238 No. 10

A group of 13 senators and representatives of U.S. Congress requested a delay Oct. 26 in the national interest decision needed from the U.S. State Department over the Keystone XL pipeline–the controversial 1,661-mile tar sands pipeline TransCanada wants to build in stages from Hardisty, Alberta to Houston and Port Arthur in the Gulf Coast region–saying TransCanada may have improperly influenced the state department’s selection of the company that performed the environmental impact survey.

Previous to this development, the State Department held hearings in Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas late last month as the last step before deciding whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Environmentalists oppose it because of concerns about the way tar sands are produced, and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and potential groundwater contamination in the Ogallalla aquifer.

But the State Department’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued Aug. 26 said the proposed route would have “limited environmental impacts” and was better than any of the 14 alternative routes the department looked at.

The lawmakers now requesting a review say that TransCanada was allowed to review and screen contractors being considered for the environmental survey work, and that any ties between TransCanada and the chosen company, Cardno Entrix, should be investigated. The lawmakers in question were identified by Platts as senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; and House members Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee; Peter Welch, D-Vermont; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Hank Johnson, D-Georgia; Tim Ryan, D-Ohio; and Michael Honda, D-California.

When she announced the environmental approval, Kerri-Ann Jones of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, noted TransCanada has agreed to take a number of steps to lessen environmental damage along the pipeline’s route. More importantly, she pointed out that before State would make a “national interest determination,” which is the final regulatory approval step, State will “look at other topics, including economic impacts, energy security questions, and foreign policy concerns.”

Debate in Nebraska is particularly intense, in part because of the presence of the Ogallalla aquifer and Nebraska Sand Hills. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) said he was tremendously disappointed that running the pipeline through the Sand Hills continues to be the State Department’s preferred route.

Meanwhile, a former senior State Department official believes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will approve the project. David Goldwyn, who left his post as head of international energy affairs earlier this year, told Platts Energy Week TV program before the most recent protest that with a positive environmental review and “national interest determination,” Clinton would back the pipeline.

“I think that balancing jobs, energy security – a country which has increased production potentially the size of Libya – I think the case for a pipeline is overwhelming, and she will approve it,” Goldwyn said.

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