The Hill’s E2-Wire today released a copy of a letter sent to Secretary of State Clinton on behalf of eleven senators urging her not to be hasty in expressing her approval of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines project. The senators were mostly reacting to concerns raised in the recently issued Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposal, and requested answers to more than twenty probing questions on the state of the project and the Department of State’s (DOS) plan of action.
The “Keystone XL” project is a proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, 1,702 miles south to Texas. Because the pipelines cross into the US from Canada, TransCanada must obtain a permit from the DOS for the project to proceed. The EPA’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is therefore triggered, which means that as part of the approval process, a detailed EIS must be prepared. The EIS discloses the specifics of the project, as well as, more importantly, the potential environmental consequences and discussion of possible alternatives.
It’s this document that has been causing quite a fuss. The DOS, designated as lead agency for the EIS, released their draft EIS on April 16, 2010. The EPA, like the aforementioned senators, was not pleased with what they saw. In the EPA’s letter to the DOS, they gave the EIS the lowest “adequacy” rating possible, concluding that “the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public, and recommend that additional information and analysis be provided.” To rub it in, they reminded that State that, “as with all projects that have not addressed potentially significant impacts, this proposal is a potential candidate for referral to CEQ.” One of the duties of the Council on Environmental Quality is to, according to the DOE, review “interagency disagreements concerning proposed major federal actions that might cause unsatisfactory environmental effects.”
Public comment on the draft EIS has ended, and input from other federal agencies was supposed to be given by September 15, 2010. However, after further consultation with the other agencies about “whether granting the application would be in the national interest,” the DOS has extended the agency input due date until 90 days after the final EIS is published. Of course, any extension at all is too much of a delay for the author of this bulletin from the Canadian law firm Gowlings, Peter Burn, who calls the EPA’s recommendations for the EIS “an unprecedented American intrusion into Canadian sovereign affairs.”
Despite all the protests, the project still seems to keep chugging along. A lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council was thrown out by a federal judge who claimed the NRDC lacked authority to bring the suit. And Canada’s National Energy Board has, of course, already approved TransCanada’s behemoth of an application to construct and operate the pipeline, and Keystone XL has plenty of American fans in the Consumer Energy Alliance. Mr. Burn might just be in luck.