By Laura Barron-Lopez - 02/26/14 01:54 PM EST
Sen. Barbara Boxer wants to add a new element to the Keystone XL oil pipeline debate: its effects on health.
The California Democrat claims negative health effects from the proposed pipeline's development were ignored by the State Department's environmental impact review.
She said Keystone would add pollutants to the air that will increase the likelihood of people getting cancer or heart disease.
"I do believe the public health impacts are something that average people can really relate to because they know cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country — heart disease is number one — and all of this filthy air contributes to both of those," she said.
Boxer and Whitehouse will send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry detailing the health impacts of the pipeline, which they hope he will consider when determining whether Keystone XL is in the nation's best interests.
The State Department is currently in the national determination phase of its review, which lasts for 90 days. While the department's environmental analysis said the pipeline developed by TransCanada would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, Boxer claims more information is needed on the human impacts.
"As tar sands oil flows to our gulf coast refineries it will increase toxic pollution that already plagues communities like Port Arthur Texas, which is near many refineries that will process tar sands," Boxer said.
Boxer said hearings on the topic are a possibility but nothing is set in stone. Her goal is to get President Obama and Kerry's attention.
Advocates of the pipeline say it would not exacerbate pollution and would provide a safer alternative than railcars for transporting crude oil. Those supporting the pipeline, which would carry crude from oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf refineries, argue opponents are simply trying to delay an already dragged out process.
"Keystone XL clearly passes President Obama's climate test, so opponents are scrambling to find any other way to slow down the process," said Katie Brown, spokeswoman for industry-supported group Oil Sands Fact Check, in a statement.
Boxer made the push one day after fellow Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) said the Government Accountability Office told him it would probe the process of State's environmental analysis for the pipeline.
A GAO spokesmen said Grijalva's request will go through the normal review process, which takes a few weeks. Boxer mentioned she plans to formally back Grijalva's request to have the GAO conduct an investigation.
Obama recently told governors gathered at the White House that a decision on the $5.4 billion project would be made in "a couple of months."