By Justin Sink
The State Department is expected to release its final environmental analysis on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday.
The report will include the findings of a years-long study into the environmental impact of the $5.4 billion construction project, which would carry oil from Canadian refineries to the Gulf Coast.
A senior State Department official declined to confirm reports about the Friday release but said the analysis would be coming “soon.”
“The EIS is in the final stages of preparation and we anticipate a release of the document soon. As a reminder when it is released, EIS is not a decision, but another step in the process prescribed by the Executive Order.”
At a climate speech at Georgetown University last summer, President Obama said the construction would be acceptable “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Separately, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell reported that the impact statement would not recommend specifically whether the pipeline should or should not be constructed. She characterized the report as including “a lot of ‘advice’ from all sides.”
If the report is released Friday, it sets up an accelerated timeline that could have the Obama administration making a final decision on construction by the early summer. Once the State Department releases its environmental study, the government will begin an interagency comment and review process examining whether the pipeline is in the national interest.
After that, the president could issue his final determination on the project.
The White House has refused to publicly comment on the progress of the pipeline's evaluation in recent weeks, citing the ongoing State Department evaluation.
“I don’t want to get ahead of that,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this month. “I think that once the process is moving forward, we’ll apprise you of that, and when a decision is made, we’ll announce it.”
The construction is a tough political issue for Obama. Environmental activists have warned that a leak in the pipeline could have devastating consequences, and say enabling the easy transport of oil sands fuel would hinder efforts to promote alternative energies.
Green groups also say approval of the project could depress voter turnout among liberals in the midterm elections.
But vulnerable Democrats and unions have endorsed the project, saying it would create thousands of new jobs. Some Senate Democrats have threatened to attach the project to must-pass legislation like the debt ceiling. Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (La.) are among the Democratic lawmakers from oil states facing tough reelection battles that support the program.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Obama said that action to reverse climate change “has to be a top priority for all of us,” but mentioned his plans to implement regulations limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants rather than a pending decision on the pipeline.
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed.
— This story was first posted at 11:41 p.m. on Jan. 30 and has been updated.