Lawmakers ask for broad environmental review of Keystone XL

Nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers implored the State Department to launch a broad new environmental analysis of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, now that its planned route through the Midwest has been altered.

The lawmakers, including Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Peter Welch of Vermont and Paul Tonko of New York, said that with the new route, the proposed oil pipeline is essentially an entirely new project that warrants a top-to-bottom review.

“In light of the new route and a new termination point in Cushing, Okla., the purpose and need for this project must be re-evaluated,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones. “Given the extensive environmental impact of this proposed pipeline and the number of critical questions that remain either unanswered or inadequately addressed, we believe the department should proceed with an entirely new environmental review.”

Initially planned to carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries, the newly revised Keystone XL project would instead extend from Alberta to Nebraska and then connect to the trading hub in Cushing, Okla.

Separately, TransCanada Corp., is building a 485-mile pipeline, dubbed the “Gulf Coast Project,” that would connect Cushing with Beaumont, Texas — with a separate extension to Houston. The company has received the final Army Corps of Engineers permits it needs to launch construction on the $2.3 billion pipeline.

TransCanada broke up the project and revised Keystone XL’s route through Nebraska after concerns were raised about its proximity to the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies drinking water to 2 million people.

Earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute urged the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline swiftly and to focus its review narrowly, since the State Department already has examined much of the project.

“The scope of the State Department’s review should be confined to the new 88-mile reroute in Nebraska,” said API Refining Manager Cindy Schild. “The rest of the project has already received a thorough environmental assessment and a determination by the State Department that there would be ‘no significant impacts’ on the environment.”

Separately, environmental advocates who have challenged the pipeline in court, say a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service could delay construction of Keystone XL, even if it wins the State Department’s approval.

At issue is the service’s decision not to allow researchers to trap and relocate endangered beetles in the path of the pipeline until it is permitted. Previously, the agency had allowed TransCanada to mow prairie vegetation in Nebraska and allow a researcher to trap and move the beetles in the pipeline’s path. Environmentalists challenged the decision in court, prompting the wildlife service’s new approach.

According to Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, the decision could delay pipeline construction because the endangered American burying beetle is only active — and able to be captured — in the spring and early summer.

Obama administration officials have said they are on track to make a final decision on the pipeline in the first quarter of 2013.

Keystone New EIS Letter