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Review raises no major environmental objections to Keystone XL pipeline

The State Department on Friday issued a key environmental impact report on the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing President Obama one step closer to deciding whether to let the controversial project proceed.

The report concludes that the pipeline would not significantly worsen carbon pollution. Furthermore, it said “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios.”

The report said that the pipeline’s construction would support about 42,100 jobs (directly and indirectly). After its construction, the operations of the pipeline would create about 50 jobs. 

The report makes no recommendations to the administration about whether or not the pipeline should be approved and simply represents "another step in the process" of evaluating the project, a State Department spokesman said.

Now, other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department will have 90 days to weigh in on whether the project is in the United States’ national interest. Secretary of State John Kerry will also review the report, along with all other considerations -- the State Department has jurisdiction over the oil pipeline because it crosses international borders. Ultimately, President Obama could have the final say on whether it goes forward.

“The President has clearly stated that the project will be in the national interest only if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said. "The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement includes a range of estimates of the project’s climate impacts, and that information will now need to be closely evaluated by Secretary Kerry and other relevant agency heads in the weeks ahead.  A decision on whether the project is in the national interest will be made only after careful consideration of the SEIS and other pertinent information, comments from the public, and views of other agency heads.”

In a speech last summer laying out a plan to reduce carbon emissions, Mr. Obama said that the net effects of the pipeline's impact on climate would be  “absolutely critical” in determining whether or not the project would move forward.

"Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn't significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," he said.

Reacting to the report, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that Mr. Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.

“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” she said in a statement. “Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest. Keystone XL should be rejected.”

Others, however, said the benefits of the project outweigh the costs.

“With 43,000 jobs and a more energy-independent America on the line, this new study underscores what has been said all along about Keystone XL Pipeline:  it’s time to build,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement. “This single project will inject billions of dollars into Louisiana and national economies and reduce our dependence on oil from hostile countries.”

The company building the pipeline, TransCanada, first submitted an application for the project in 2008, leaving the decision looming over Mr. Obama’s entire presidency. Thousands of people concerned about the project’s environmental impact have protested in front of the White House, while Texas landowners have filed dozens of lawsuits against the project. On the other side, Republicans have held up the pending project as a symbol of stalled progress during the Obama administration.

“If President Obama wants to score an easy win for the middle class, he could simply put the politics aside and approve the Keystone pipeline,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “One stroke [of his pen] and the Keystone pipeline is approved. I know the Keystone issue is difficult for him because it involves a choice between pleasing the left and helping the middle class, but that’s exactly the type of decision he needs to make.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group, said in a statement Friday that it’s now time to see whether Mr. Obama will live up to his campaign promise to combat global warming.

“He's about the only person who hasn't weighed in on Keystone XL,” McKibben said. “Now we'll see if he's good for his word or if the fossil fuel industry is so strong they control even the president of the United States.”

The pipeline would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada through Nebraska, where it would connect to already-approved pipelines that lead to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. 

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