Long path ahead for Keystone XL pipeline

WASHINGTON — Even though the State Department has released a major environmental study of Keystone XL, it will be months before the Obama administration issues a final verdict on the the proposed pipeline.

Foes of the TransCanada Corp. project, which would link Alberta’s oil sands with Gulf Coast refineries, stressed that while the final environmental impact statement likely to be released today is an important milestone, it is only one step in a long path to a final decision.

“This is far from over,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Next, we must address whether the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be in America’s national interest. To that question, there is only one answer: No.”

Beginning Feb. 5, the public will have a chance to weigh in during a 30-day public comment period; federal agencies will also have 90 days to give feedback.

After that, officials will begin deciding whether Keystone XL is in the “national interest” — a bar established by the same 2004 executive order that put border-crossing pipeline reviews in the State Department’s hands. State officials will consult with the Department of Energy, EPA and other agencies as it weighs security, economic and other concerns. The public will have a chance to comment in writing on the question over 90 days, and environmentalists have asked for hearings, too.

When the national interest determination comes out, the public will have at least 45 days to comment on it. The EPA and other agencies also can appeal that determination, ultimately putting the final decision in President Barack Obama’s hands.

Climate change: Obama signals Keystone XL decision hinges on its carbon footprint

Separately, the State Department’s inspector general is probing whether the company contracted to perform the analysis, Environmental Resource Management, misrepresented its past work on other projects for TransCanada. That probe isn’t on track to be released before the environmental study — and lawmakers want it resolved before a final decision.

Ross Hammond, a senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said it’s unclear how the State Department can “issue a credible environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline when its own investigator general is investigating whether the consultant hired to write the review lied about its ties to TransCanada and the oil companies.”

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